National Opinions

San Francisco Chronicle: Gays in military

One of this country's most discriminatory and self-defeating policies -- the ban on gays in the military known as "don't ask, don't tell" -- may be officially on the path to oblivion.

A measure to drop the ban was officially introduced this week by Rep. Ellen Tauscher, a Walnut Creek Democrat. She served notice last year of her plans, and she's keying the change to President Obama's campaign pledge to junk the Clinton-era rule.

Instead of the existing bigotry-lite policy, the bill would end the rule, allowing the president as commander-in-chief to ban discrimination in the ranks based on sexual orientation.

Public opinion has shifted dramatically since 1993, when President Bill Clinton took office and ordered an end to discrimination against gays in the armed forces. Military leaders and Capitol Hill politicians rebelled, and the result was a stilted policy that permitted gays and lesbians as long as they stayed silent about their lives.

Public attitudes have moderated since then, along with the military mind-set. Some 70 percent-plus of returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans said they weren't opposed to gays in uniform.

Also pulling an about-face were former Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell and retired Sen. Sam Nunn, a Georgia Democrat and leader on military matters, who both had a hand in writing the original "shut up and stay in the closet" rule.

Along with views that evolved in opposition to the policy, there were practical downsides. A Government Accountability Office report found that the policy had chased out 12,000 troops since its inception. Nearly 800 were considered especially valuable to the Pentagon, including 300 critically needed specialists in Arabic and other languages. This exclusion came as the military attempted to fill its ranks by lowering standards and admitting noncitizens. The rule has backfired to the nation's detriment.

It's time to dump "don't ask, don't tell."