Lawrence J. Korb on Repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

What is "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and why does it need to be repealed?

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is a compromise policy that we got in 1993 when President Clinton tried to drop the ban on gays serving openly completely. The congress and the military wouldn't go along with it. So right now you can stay in the military if you happen to be gay as long as you don't come out and somebody doesn't out you. It should be repealed for a number of reasons. Number one and most important, it undermines military readiness because we're forcing out a lot of qualified people at a time when we're having difficulty attracting enough qualified volunteers. The other reason is even if people who are not outted or come out, a lot of gays -- we estimate about 4,000 a year -- decide not to reenlist because they're worried about being caught or having to live a lie. The second reason is that it's an unjust policy -- you can't exclude someone from serving their country unless you have a good reason. And there is no good reason. Even Admiral Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he's been serving with gays since 1968 and he hasn't seen any problems with it.

What have other countries' experiences been in repealing their bans on open service?

We have 25 countries, most of whom are very close allies to the United States, who have repealed the ban and they have seen no problems. Now if you take a look at I think three very relevant countries and see how they've handled it because these are countries who are close allies, have a lot of similarities to us in terms of culture and background, and they changed it after we instituted "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." For example, the British who in 1993 when Clinton was trying to change the policy, they were used by our military people in saying, "Well see, the British haven't changed it and they're similar to us; they have submarines, they deploy." Well the British were forced by the European Court of Human Rights and literally at the end of 1999 to say, "You can’t keep this ban." Within two weeks, they had dropped it and had no problems. The Canadians basically during the 90s, a lot of the courts in Canada had ruled that the policy was illegal so they changed it with, again, no disruption. The great irony is in both Britain and Canada when they polled the servicemen and women ahead of time, they said, "What do you think will happen if we allow openly gay people to serve?" and people said, "Oh, everybody will get out and nobody will join." Haven't had any problems at all. And the third country I think is interesting is Israel because like us, they're a country whose fighting forces are right on the edge all of the time. Basically, they limited the opportunities for gays -- they never excluded them from serving -- but by and large once their courts said they couldn't do that, they've had no problems.

What will the United States have to do to repeal its ban on open service?

The United States would have to do very little. For example, basically they have to ensure that when you have training manuals, you add sexual orientation to discrimination on the basis of other things. In terms of discipline, you have standards of behavior -- just enforce them. Interestingly enough, the military has a big problem with sexual harassment, so they constantly they work on that. In terms of benefits, all they have to do is look at the State Department who changed its policies last June in terms of allowing partners of members of the foreign service to bring their partner overseas to provide them with housing. This is something that the Department of Justice, the Agency for International Development, and the Peace Corps also do, and ironically, so does the Department of Defense do it for its teachers who are teaching around the world. They're allowed to have their partners transfer with them. And the great irony is when people talk about the problems they might have in the military, we have military youngsters going to school being taught by openly gay people.