Don't Ask, Don't Tell Should Go

It's time to let gays serve openly in the military

America is one of many countries that forbid openly gay people to serve in the military. Others are: Cuba, China, Egypt, Greece, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Turkey, and Venezuela.

See a pattern?

With a few exceptions, those are not countries where free people want to live.

By contrast, Australia, the United Kingdom, Israel, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, and Spain all allow gay people to serve.

No country has America's in-between policy: Gays can serve—as long as no one finds out about it. Where did that come from?

It happened because Bill Clinton campaigned for the presidency promising to allow gays to serve. After his election, the Democratic Congress decreed that "the presence in the Armed Forces of persons who demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts would create an unacceptable risk ... ."

So a compromise was born. The media labeled it "don't ask, don't tell."

Since then, nearly 12,500 service members have been discharged because of their sexual orientation. These have included 800 "mission critical" troops such as Arabic linguists (59 of them), Farsi linguists (nine), medics, pilots, and intelligence analysts.

In May, the House of Representatives voted to repeal "don't ask, don't tell," but only after the Defense Department studies the matter and the president, secretary of defense, and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff declare that ending the policy would not reduce military effectiveness. The Senate has not voted on its version of bill.

So, should it be repealed? Here are some things to consider:

The American Psychological Association states: "Empirical evidence fails to show that sexual orientation is germane to any aspect of military effectiveness including unit cohesion, morale, recruitment and retention. ... When openly gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals have been allowed to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces, there has been no evidence of disruption or loss of mission effectiveness."

OK, of course they said that. It's the APA. But that doesn't make them wrong.

The Government Accountability Office studied four countries that allow gays to serve—Canada, Israel, Germany, and Sweden. It found that "military officials from each country said that, on the basis of their experience, the inclusion of homosexuals in their militaries has not adversely affected unit readiness, effectiveness, cohesion or morale."

How would members of America's military feel about repeal of the policy? A Military Times poll found: 71 percent of respondents said they would continue to serve if the policy were overturned, 10 percent said they would not re-enlist or extend their service, and 14 percent said they would consider terminating their careers after serving their obligated tours. That's a pretty strong majority for acceptance.

Where do I come down on this issue? It's easy. I'm a libertarian, not a conservative. I don't think government should have any role in our sex lives.

Just as I see no reason why gays should not be free to marry, I see no reason why they shouldn't be free to be in the military. As I wrote in the conclusion to Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity: "I want government to leave people alone. I think people should be free to do anything they want—as long as they don't hurt anyone else. I may disagree with their choices, but I don't think The State should take their choices away."

I draw my inspiration from Nobel laureate F.A. Hayek. He wrote a postscript to his classic, The Constitution of Liberty, titled, "Why I Am Not a Conservative," in which he said, "One of the fundamental traits of the conservative attitude is a fear of change, a timid distrust of the new as such, while the liberal (today I call it "libertarian") position is based on courage ... to let change run its course even if we cannot predict where it will lead ... ."

I'm with Hayek. Unless we do identifiable harm to others, the State should leave us alone.

John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of Give Me a Break and of Myth, Lies, and Downright Stupidity. To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at johnstossel.com. This column first appeared at Reason.com.

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