The U.S. military has had gay soldiers serve with bravery and honor throughout the nation's history. Often nobody knew they were gay, nor did most people care.
What mattered was that these soldiers, just like heterosexual soldiers, did their duty.
Yet, ever since the Clinton administration implemented the "don't ask, don't tell" policy as a compromise to an outright ban on homosexuals in the military, there has been far too much attention placed on the sexual orientation of soldiers. The result has been lawsuits and political debate.
Last month a federal district court judge in California ruled that "don't ask, don't tell" was unconstitutional, effectively halting the practice. On Monday the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals kept the policy in effect as requested by the Obama administration.
The administration is said to be seeking a legislative repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," but wants to wait to take action until the Pentagon report on a survey of the troops is released.
NBC News reported last week that an internal Pentagon study has concluded that most U.S. troops and their families would support a repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Military officials won't comment until Dec. 1, when the study is slated to be released.
Regardless of court action or the survey, President Obama needs to follow through on his pledge. The policy is unnecessary. The U.S. military would not be adversely impacted by having openly gay or lesbian soldiers.
The military operates on a strict hierarchical structure. If the president -- the commander-in-chief -- makes it clear there will be no inappropriate behavior between same-sex soldiers (just as there is between opposite-sex personnel) that order will be followed. In addition, if the president orders the generals to order the troops not to discriminate against gays then that order, too, will be followed.
Years ago some argued against racial integration of the military because it would take a toll on morale. But that notion was eventually kicked aside as discrimination.
When integration occurred military commanders used their authority to keep order and make sure soldiers acted appropriately.
Yes, discrimination takes place in the military just like in society, but the military has the structure in place to take action to stop discrimination, and stop it quickly.
If the NBC report is correct, and we certainly hope it is, the support from the troops for repealing the ban would be welcome. It would make the task of lifting the ban easier.
But regardless of surveys or court rulings, the right thing to do is end "don't ask, don't tell" and allow gays to serve in the U.S. military.