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social sciences

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Don't Ask, Don't Tell  
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The very question of the impact of open gay men and lesbians in the military was itself something of a red herring. Based on data from the numbers of open gays in police and fire departments, Robert MacCoun suggested that a ban on gay service members did little to affect the number of open gay men or lesbians in the military. He argued, "[A]cknowledged homosexuals would likely be quite rare in the military, even if all restrictions on service by homosexuals were removed."

Since so few gay men and lesbians would come out after the lifting of the ban, it was even more unlikely that lifting the ban would diminish unit cohesion. In other words, in spite of the military's reasoning, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" did little to preserve unit cohesion.

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Although much research had been published that challenged the policy, the U.S. government and the military doggedly continued to support "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" until 2010, and the law devastated many glbtq service members' lives. According to the Service Members Legal Defense Network (SLDN)--a nonprofit organization that provided legal counsel to glbtq service members who were discharged--1250 service members were discharged under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in 2001. Between the law's implementation in 1993 and 2003, the U.S. military fired over 7,800 gltbq personnel. As of 2010, more than 14,000 servicemen had been discharged under the policy.

As activists pointed out, not only did "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" harm individual service members, but it also cost the military and U.S. taxpayers dearly. Conservative estimates placed the financial costs of the policy at over $230 million for the decade between 1994 and 2003. A Government Accountablity Office report in 2011 placed the cost of discharging 3,664 servicemembers in the years 2004 through 2009 at approximately $200 million, bringing the total through 2009 to nearly half a billion dollars. But the cost to military effectiveness and governmental integrity was even more staggering, if difficult to quantify.

As proponents of lifting the ban pointed out, the ban promoted a hostile working environment, wasted crucial resources on unnecessary investigations, and forced many qualified service members to leave the military, depriving the services of many needed talents.

Moreover, by officially condoning discrimination, the military contradicted the democratic values it is supposed to protect and further alienated itself from the civilian sector. In 2002, a poll by the Gallup organization found that 72 percent of the public supported the right of gays and lesbians to serve in uniform. Yet the policy was not repealed until 2011.

A study by Laura Miller and John Allen Williams confirmed the increasing schism between military leadership and civilians. It found that 56 percent of civilians responded affirmatively to a survey asking if they thought gay men and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly in armed forces.

As Williams reported to the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military, "The military is a reflection of the society it exists to defend, and American society is becoming more tolerant of different lifestyle choices. Sooner or later these changes will filter into the military."

Even sociologist Charles Moskos, the primary author of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," began to qualify his position. In January 2003, he announced that he would support allowing known gays and lesbians to serve in the military if the U.S. were to reinstitute the draft. "If an open gay said, 'I want to go into the army,' it would be his prerogative," Moskos said. "Of course, there would be problems with that, there would be hassles, but they probably could be overcome."

Moskos claimed that the draft represents a higher virtue in his mind than the right of glbtq people to serve in a volunteer military, and in the context of a draft, he saw the gay ban as an easy way to avoid military service for any soldier who might identify as gay, truthfully or not. But his willingness to consider lifting the ban even in this particular case further cast doubt on the legitimacy of the exclusion of glbtq people from the military.

[Road to Repeal

During his presidential campaign in 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama called for the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, raising hopes that repeal of the policy would be a top priority of his administration. Following his assumption of office in 2009, however, President Obama indicated that plans to repeal the policy would be delayed so that he could confer with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and his new political appointees at the Pentagon to reach a consensus, and then present legislation to Congress.

During the campaign, Obama intimated that he would end the ban by executive order. After the election, however, he insisted that only Congress could change the policy.

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