'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' still faces hurdles

Obama should immediately issue an executive order to halt all discharge proceedings against gay and lesbians in the military.

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To casual observers, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was finally put to rest when the Senate on Saturday sent legislation to President Obama for his signature.

Not so fast. The legislation contains some sticky clauses requiring Obama to certify to Congress the repeal won't damage troops' ability to fight. No one knows, however, what the certification must consist of, how long it will take to produce and whether Congress has to accept it. It also requires the Pentagon to write new policies and regulations.

In the meantime, the reprehensible policy remains in force and those who oppose the change continue to take potshots at it and put up more roadblocks.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates wasn't very reassuring that certification would be quick. "I will approach this process deliberately and will make such certification only after careful consultation with the military service chiefs and our combatant commanders and when I am satisfied that those conditions have been met for all the services, commands and units," he said.

Even after all this is done, there is a 60-day waiting period.

What a tremendous waste of time, effort and resources this has been. Had Obama shown the same intestinal fortitude of President Harry S. Truman in his 1948 executive order on racial equality in the military this issue would have been long behind us. Instead, Obama sought political cover behind legislation. The Constitution makes it clear the president is the commander in chief of the military. His word is law when it relates to military operations and policies.

Truman understood this and pushed aside concerns that allowing blacks to integrate the military would destroy combat-readiness. All the arguments against allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly were used when trying to prevent blacks from having equality in the military - or to keep women out of military service academies. Neither of these changes have harmed the military, and there is strong evidence they have strengthened it.

Since Obama chose a different road he must see it through. However, he should immediately issue an executive order to halt all discharge proceedings against gays and lesbians in the military and light a fire under Gates to complete the certification process within 30 days. It isn't as if this process is starting from scratch. Obama, Gates and the Joint Chiefs of Staff have been gathering data on this for two years. And it's pretty simply to give the order: "All gays and lesbians will be treated just like any other military personnel. All troops will obey this order or be subject to severe discipline."

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