Commentary: Do away with 'Don't ask, don't tell'

"Don't ask, don't tell" is not only patently unfair, it's also self-defeating. Since the policy was put into effect in 1993, U.S. military forces have discharged some 13,500 gay men and lesbians.

Among those expelled because of their sexual orientation were many much-needed Arabic translators.

The military bans homosexuals from serving. But under "don't ask, don't tell," gay men and women are allowed to serve as long as they keep their sexual orientation secret. Superiors are prohibited from investigating soldiers' sexual orientation as long as they obey the rules. However, one cruel aspect of this policy is that it allows third parties, such as jilted lovers, to out someone to military superiors.

President Obama put getting rid of this discriminatory policy high on his agenda in his State of the the Union address. It's a welcome call. But "don't ask, don't tell" can only be repealed by Congress, where it is still controversial. Wisely, the president sent Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, to the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday to unveil the Pentagon's proposed plan for ending the policy.

Congress should heed our military experts and repeal "don't ask, don't tell" this year. Even if it does act, the Pentagon will move gradually. Secretary Gates is assembling a team of advisors to start reviewing steps needed to fully integrate openly gay troops. Their review will take all of 2010, Mr. Gates said. Give this change some historical context: It took about five years to completely integrate the military after President Harry Truman ordered a halt to racial segregation in the armed forces in 1949.

This is more than a matter of government discrimination. It's also a matter of practicality.

Between two wars and other U.S. military obligations around the world, including the ongoing relief effort in Haiti, America's armed forces are stretched perilously thin.

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