'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Hurts Nation's Security

Rev. Del Roper
Published on The Grand Island Independent

From the time we start to school we Americans are taught to stand and "pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America." That pledge ends with the affirmation "with liberty and justice for all" — a noble ideal, a key value for which we strive. That said, it occurs to me that we as a noble people face some critical work to assure liberty and justice for all.

This work has to do with a segment of American citizens who are denied this liberty and justice.

I speak of those men and women whose sexual orientation is different from our society’s "norm." Ironically, it is within our military which is sworn to fight to uphold this "liberty and justice for all" that these values are being denied. The major culprit is the current law "Don’t Ask — Don’t Tell" (DADT) passed in 1994 during the Clinton administration. This law prohibits service members from making statements, engaging in acts or partaking in marriages that demonstrate they are lesbian or gay. The law and implementing policies make it difficult to understand what statements or acts require a service member to be dis- charged. The result is a situation where DADT is inconsistently applied and arbitrarily enforced based on the interpretation of the law by an individual command. Consequently, DADT is a failure. It does not serve our best interests.

I was startled to learn that since its enactment nearly 14,000 servicemembers have been discharged under "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell," including nearly 1,000 mission critical specialists such as Arabic linguists. This policy is detrimental to military readiness and national security and puts American soldiers fighting overseas at risk. At a time when our military is fighting two wars, qualified servicemembers who are willing to serve their country should not be dis- charged based on their sexual orientation. This law should be repealed.

As a Christian pastor, I have ministered to a number of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and trans- gendered people and their families over the past 50 years. I have witnessed their pain, agonized with families over suicides, and sought to educate parishioners regarding the spiritual violence committed in condemning this minority in our society. Most of the gay and lesbian people I have known lived by high moral values and made solid, valued contributions to their church and community. There is ample evidence that this is no less true in the military.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen recently testified before Congress that "[I]t is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do. No matter how I look at this issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a law which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens. For me personally, it comes down to integrity — theirs as individuals and ours as an institution."

According to the Human Rights Campaign [www.hrc.org], our military allies’ experiences shows that open service works. Twenty of the 26 NATO nations, including Great Britain, Australia, Canada and Israel, already allow open service by lesbian and gay troops, and none reports morale or recruitment problems. The United States, Turkey, Greece and Portugal are the only NATO nations that forbid lesbians and gays to serve openly in the armed services.

A number of surveys have been conducted amongst veterans and active duty servicemembers regarding their views on this issue. According to Human Rights Campaign: "Nearly three in four troops (73 percent) say they are personally comfortable in the presence of gays and lesbians (Zogby international and the Michael D. Palm Center, 2006). One in four (25 percent) of U. S. troops who served in Afghanistan or Iraq knows a member of their unit who is gay. More than 55 percent of the troops who know of a gay colleague said the presence of lesbians or gays in their unit is well-known by others. All published Pentagon studies that address the topic, including the 1993 Rand Report, conclude that there should be no special restrictions on service by gay personnel."

I pray that we may urge Congress to repeal the "Don’t Ask — Don’t Tell" law. It violates our nation’s ideals, and undercuts our national security.

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