The XX Factor

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Not For Long

What’s amazing about the new ruling striking down the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law is how smoothly it goes down. To justify its discrimination against gay soldiers, Judge Virginia Phillips of federal district court in California explains, the government has to show that the law “significantly furthers” its interests and that the policy is “necessary” to achieve them. The answer is supposed to be all about unit cohesion. But from President Obama on down, the military has changed its mind about that. Phillips quotes the president saying, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell doesn’t contribute to our national security.” She throws in Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has supported the repeal of the law and points out that Colin Powell, who once crucially defended Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, now says he thinks it should be reviewed.

Then Judge Phillips turns to the testimony of the gay soldiers who say they served for years with distinction and without incident. The Log Cabin Republicans who brought this suit really scored with their plaintiffs, whose stories include promotions and lavish praise from their superiors. One said that admission to the U.S. Naval Academy was the “most significant moment” of his life. More prosaically, the judge moves to a sober discussion of military bunk architecture. It seems that after basic training, single rooms and showers have become the norm. According to a researcher, “three-fourths of the troops quartered in combat zones in Afghanistan and Iraq had access to single-stall showers.”

Good to know, I suppose. But what’s far more important is the evidence Judge Phillips amasses of the harm Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has done:

The Act has caused the discharge of servicemembers in occupations identified as “critical” by the military, including medical professionals and Arabic, Korean, and Farsi linguists. At the same time that the Act has caused the discharge of over 13,000 members of the military, including hundreds in critical occupations, the shortage of troops has caused the military to permit enlistment of those who would have been earlier denied admission because of their criminal records, their lack of education, or their lack of physical fitness.

Judge Phillips’ order striking down Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell won’t go into effect right away, and likely not until after it’s appealed. Congress could still get rid of this failed law on its own, as the House has already voted to do. It would be better for the lawmakers to clean up their own mess rather than leaving it for the courts. But Judge Phillips’ careful opinion shows that one way or another, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is going down. How about this image: a wedding where the happy couple are two men, or women, standing proudly at the altar in uniform.