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US military urges repeal of gay ban
Gays should be allowed to serve openly in the military, officials tell Congress.
Last Modified: 02 Feb 2010 21:04 GMT
Pentagon figures show 428 military service members were dismissed for being openly gay in 2009 [AFP]

Senior Pentagon officials have been testifying before the US Congress on reviewing a policy that prohibits openly gay men and women from serving in the armed forces.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, announced on Tuesday plans to loosen enforcement rules involving the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that requires service personnel to keep their sexual orientation secret.

"No matter how I look at the issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens," Mullen said at the senate armed services committee hearing on Capitol Hill.

"For me, it comes down to integrity, theirs as individuals and ours as an institution."

Policy review

Barack Obama, the US president, has called for a repeal of the policy that was introduced in 1993 as a compromise between then president Bill Clinton's desire to lift the ban, and concerns from Congress and the military that lifting it would be disruptive.

Appearing before the same panel, Robert Gates, the defence secretary, announced a year-long policy review.

If the ban is revoked, it would mark the biggest shake-up to military personnel policies since President Harry Truman's 1948 executive order integrating the services.

"You don't have to be straight to shoot straight"

Mark Udall, Democratic senator

But some high-ranking military officers are reluctant to embrace the change.

John McCain, a Republican senator, said he was "deeply disappointed" at the Pentagon's decision to the survey.

"Has this policy been ideal? No, it has not,'' McCain, a former Navy officer, said.

"But it has been effective."

Several other Republicans sided with McCain, warning Mullen and Gates not to pursue a change at a time when the US was fighting two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and facing a continuing threat of terrorism.

Democrats said they would back a change in policy.

Mark Udall, a Democratic senator, said his Colorado constituents pride themselves
on allowing others to live and let live.

"You don't have to be straight to shoot straight,'' Udall said, quoting libertarian Barry Goldwater.

'Voting against soldiers'

Gay rights activists have complained that Obama has been slow in fulfilling a campaign promise to eliminate the policy.

Dan Choi, an Iraq war veteran and a gay rights activist who publicly challenged the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, told Al Jazeera he is facing discharge from the army after announcing that he was gay.

"I'm not satisfied with what happened today," Choi said.

"Soldiers who are gay have to lie about who they are. Unless we repeal the law today and the president uses his authority to stop firing people for their honesty, we've lost all moral high ground in the world.

"When they [the military] presume that our soldiers will lose all control once you allow honesty to swell the ranks that really is voting against our soldiers.

"It's saying our soldiers aren't dependable or professional or disciplined enough to handle the truth."

Under the 1993 law, engaging in homosexual conduct - even if the person concerned does not tell anyone - can be enough to qualify a person for dismissal.

Recent figures from the Pentagon show that 428 service members were dismissed for being openly gay in 2009, down from 619 dismissed in 2008.

The number is by far the lowest since 1997, when 997 service members were dismissed.

Overall, more than 10,900 troops have been dismissed under the policy.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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