Don’t ask, just tell

Obama makes a promise it’s time for him to keep

“I will end ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ That is my commitment to you.” President Obama may have made that pledge recently to 3,000 attendees of a fundraiser for a gay-advocacy group, the Human Rights Campaign, but really he was speaking to thousands of unsung heroes who have served with distinction a country that’s forced them to live in the shadows.

Sixteen years ago, President Bill Clinton signed legislation banning open homosexuals from the military. That is, gays could serve, but only if they kept their sexual identities secret. Coming out could cost them their commissions, as it has for about 12,500 who have been forced out of the armed forces. This exodus from the ranks has exacerbated the depletion of troops during two protracted engagements in distant lands (Afghanistan and Iraq) and deprived the armed forces of highly qualified servicemen and -women (most conspicuously, Arabic translators).

Now comes a piece in a military journal, Joint Force Quarterly, asserting that the so-called “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is both ineffective and counterproductive. Writes Air Force Col. Om Prakash, who researched the impact of the 1993 law: “In an attempt to allow homosexual service members to serve quietly, a law was created that forces a compromise in integrity, conflicts with the American creed of ‘equality for all,’ places commanders in difficult moral dilemmas, and is ultimately more damaging to the unit cohesion its stated purpose is to preserve.”

It’s time to end the hypocrisy.

We know President Obama has been busy. Along with the aforementioned wars, he inherited a sliding economy and dysfunctional health-care system, among other problems. He’s had other priorities.

But, now that he’s made his bold declaration—“I will end ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ ”—he needs to do it. Executive order? If he must. But with Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, coupled with eroding support for the ban, Obama should be able to take the policy out the way it came in. Don’t ask, Mr. President—tell.