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End of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Opens Doors

Openly gay men and women can now serve in the U.S. military
By Josef Molar

The 18-year-old “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy expired on September 20 after years of emotionally charged debate about whether gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve in the military. Some troops claimed the repeal could be a distraction on the battlefield, and others contended it violates their personal and religious beliefs.

The end of the controversial policy in the armed services means soldiers won’t be asked their sexual orientation, and they won’t be discharged simply for acknowledging they are
gay. However, hand-holding and
other forms of public affection on base won’t be tolerated for anyone of any orientation.

The Pentagon says it has trained more than two million men and women in uniform on the new policy. About 14,000 gay service members have been discharged since DADT was enacted in 1993.

Gay service members will still be denied some benefits. Gay couples will not be eligible to live in family housing or receive health benefits for their partners because of the federal Defense of Marriage Act passed in 1996.

The anxiety surrounding the end of DADT is similar to that felt in 1976, when the first women enrolled at the military academies, said Aubrey Sarvis, the executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

“Some thought it would be the fall of West Point and the Naval Academy,” he said. “They’re still standing.”

A Pentagon survey of 115,000 service members last year found that 70 percent of U.S. troops said gay men and lesbians who are out could serve without a negative effect. Thirty percent predicted “concerns about the impact of a repeal.”

Of all services, the Marine Corps has been the least supportive of the repeal. In the survey, nearly 60 percent of Marine respondents said their unit’s effectiveness “in a field environment or out at sea” would be negatively affected by repeal.

Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos was one of the most vocal opponents, arguing it could be a distraction in a time of war. But during congressional hearings, Amos said Marines would follow the law.

“I want to be clear to all Marines: we will step out smartly to faithfully implement this new law,” Amos said in a training video.

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