Commentary: 'Don't ask, don't tell' must go

The nation's top two military leaders made a welcome but long overdue declaration on Tuesday: The "don't ask, don't tell" law that prevents gays from serving openly in the armed forces is wrong. It damages the military's integrity and should be repealed.

Until that happens, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced, the military will enforce the law in "a more humane and fair manner." That, too, is a step in the right direction, but the Pentagon should go further and halt discharges related to sexual orientation.

Justice won't be done until the law – flawed in its inception 17 years ago – is fully repealed.

"Don't ask, don't tell" has forced thousands to lie about something at the core of who they are. And even as the nation fights two wars and the military struggles to fill its ranks, the law has led to the discharge of 13,000 service members, including some essential personnel such as medics, pilots and linguists.

Gates and Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, put the issue squarely before Congress, but it would take unusual political courage to vote on repealing the law before the midterm election in November. In the House, a repeal bill, HR 1283, introduced last year by then-Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo, has 187 co-sponsors, including 31 from California.

Gates told lawmakers Tuesday that a high-level group in the Pentagon will work the rest of the year to prepare for repeal and "minimize disruption" to the military. But he also said that once Congress repeals the law, it would take a year to fully implement.

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