Opponents of the "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy toward gay members of the military were slapped down by a Senate filibuster this week, but the policy is a short-timer. With each new generation that steps into combat boots, gay and lesbian soldiers and sailors are accepted into military cohesion, as they should be without being forced into clandestine behavior.
The 17-year-old policy should be repealed, but the attempt by Senate Democrats was an obvious political tool heading into the November elections. The Pentagon is scheduled to complete a survey of service members on the policy in December, but that will be too late for issue-needy Democrats.
The survey should not be regarded as a democratic vote any more than past decisions on civil liberties in America have been determined by majority rule.
Lt. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, the Hawaii-based commander of U.S. Army forces in the Pacific, was rightly admonished by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in March for a letter to Stars and Stripes newspaper asking military members favoring the present policy to write to "your elected officials and chain of command and express your views."
President Harry Truman did not take a popular head count within the military before racially integrating the armed forces in 1948, and President Barack Obama’s support of repealing the "don’t ask, don’t tell" law need not accept what appears to be a temporary setback on Capitol Hill.
Completion of the Pentagon survey of military members should be used not to determine whether to keep or dump the present policy but how to implement a new policy of acceptance with the least polarization.
When Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates asked Congress in February to repeal the law, a Pentagon spokesman explained that "the department’s review of how to smartly implement a change in the law is more important than ever, and their participation in it is absolutely critical to its success."
That is why Democrats were premature in asking for the repeal prior to the review’s completion. And Republicans would be wrong in applying their "no" voting habit in Congress to the repeal when that time comes.
This month, U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips struck down the "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy as unconstitutional, violating the First Amendment’s right to free speech, even considering the diminished constitutional rights within the military. And yesterday District Judge Ronald B. Leighton of Tacoma, Wash., ruled that the Air Force violated a reserve flight nurse by firing her because she is gay.
Obama’s Justice Department has indicated it will appeal those rulings, as is customary, even though the president wants Congress to repeal the policy. But he should be open to dropping court appeals if congressional Republicans resist the repeal of "don’t ask, don’t tell."