Support the troops -- all of them

A sizeable group in the House, including some Republicans, wants to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" -- but don't ask their conservative colleagues in the Senate.

Published April 12, 2005 11:45PM (EDT)

The military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy took a beating last week when a 23 year-old Army sergeant who received a Purple Heart for service in Iraq disclosed that he was gay. The soldier, Robert Stout, told the Associated Press he'd like the chance to serve openly, but that it was more likely he would be jailed and discharged from the Army. "The old armchair thought that gay people destroy unit camaraderie and cohesion is just wrong,'' he said. ''They said the same things when they tried to integrate African-Americans and women into the military."

The military's policy seems particularly egregious today, given the U.S. military's ongoing recruitment problems. This week, conservative Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami, who often supports gay rights because of her Miami constituency, took the bold step of saying so. "We've tried the policy. I don't think it works. And we've spent a lot of money enforcing it,'' she told the Miami Herald. "We investigate people... Basically wreck their lives. People who've signed up to serve our country. We should be thanking them."

She and two other House Republicans, Christopher Shays of Connecticut and Jim Kolbe of Arizona (the only openly gay Republican in Congress), have joined 72 Democrats in supporting the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, which would repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Rep. Marty Meehan of Massachusetts introduced the proposal in the House in March, saying he was concerned about military readiness. A report from the Government Accountability Office found that the Army has ejected nearly 10,000 service members since the policy began in 1993, many of whom had valuable language skills. The Army spent $190 million to replace them.

But as concerned as many legislators say they are about supporting U.S. troops now serving around the globe, addressing the issue of gays in the military is too hot an issue for most Republicans to touch. The bill, which has no Senate companion, is unlikely to leave the House Committee on Armed Services.

By Julia Scott

San Francisco-based freelance journalist Julia Scott writes about water and energy issues for various publications. She also covers the environment for Bay Area News Group, a chain of newspapers in Northern California.

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