Memorial Day, which passed Monday, is more than just a day off from school and work. It’s a prized tradition honoring men and women who have selflessly served in the U.S. Armed Forces – sometimes at the ultimate expense.
It’s unfortunate, however, that since 1994 – when the “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) policy was first implemented, allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the military as long as their sexual preference was not revealed – more than 13,500 servicemen and women have been discharged for not hiding the truth, including nearly 70 Arabic and Farsi linguists and about 800 mission-critical troops in the last five years, according to Service Members Legal Defense Network, a non-profit group opposed to DADT.
The House of Representatives voted 234-194 in favor of an amendment repealing DADT on Thursday, hours after the Senate Armed Forces Committee voted to repeal the ban, and the Senate is set to vote on the measure next.
The change allowing gays and lesbians to openly serve in the military is long overdue and is a significant milestone in the modernization of the U.S. Armed Forces that ends the practice of institutionalized discrimination based on homophobia and intolerance.
Members of the Defense Department, FBI, State Department and CIA also serve an important role in maintaining national security, perhaps as much as the military. These federal agencies do not discriminate on the basis of sexual preference, yet they still operate in a professional and efficient manner.
Men and women already serve together in the Armed Forces despite the chances of sexual impropriety, which isn’t a major problem because of required military discipline. Barring gays and lesbians insinuates that they are less disciplined and unable to control their sexual behavior, which is unfair and untrue.
“In a military which values honesty and integrity, this policy encourages deceit,” Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said in a statement.
There are more than 36,000 estimated gays and lesbians actively serving in the military, according to the Urban Institute, all of who are forced to live in secrecy.
Currently, 24 nations allow openly gay servicemen and women, while the U.S. and conservative-leaning Turkey are the only two original NATO nations with the ban, a reflection of the policy’s outdated vision in a progressive world.
It’s also estimated that 73 percent of military personnel are comfortable with lesbians and gays, and one in four troops in Iraq and Afghanistan know a member of their unit who is gay, according to a Zogby International survey.
Contemporary American society is growing more tolerant toward homosexuals, and as the U.S. military personnel’s attitudes reflect this shift, so should its policies. Exemplified by many other great militaries in the world, a lack of discrimination does not mean a military lacks discipline.