A federal judge has stepped in where Congress, the Pentagon, and the Obama administration were treading carefully, deciding that the "don't ask, don't tell" policy barring gays from serving openly in uniform is a violation of the First Amendment and due-process rights of gay service members. The administration asked for a stay of the ruling pending an appeal, even as the Pentagon announced this week that it will halt investigations and discharges under the policy.
The question this week is whether an abrupt end of "don't ask, don't tell" will have an adverse effect on combat readiness and morale in the uniformed ranks, as some opponents of the repeal have argued.
On one hand, recent polls show 75 percent of Americans think gays should be allowed to serve openly in uniform. Military leaders such as Adm. Mike Mullen, current chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Gen. Colin Powell, a former chairman, have argued for ending the ban.
On the other hand, not all of the Joint Chiefs support a repeal. Surveys soliciting the views of current service members and their spouses are only now being compiled by the Pentagon. What if they indicate that a U.S. military that recruits disproportionately from the South and Mountain West has more conservative views on the issue than the public at large?
Is this the kind of social change that is best left to the Congress rather than the courts? If Republicans win a majority of the House or Senate in the upcoming midterm elections, would that make repeal by Congress more or less likely? What should the Obama administration do, considering that the president campaigned on repealing the ban?
Finally, what should take precedence in this case, the views of the rank-and-file military at a moment of great stress on the force, or the rights of gay service members, who in many cases have risked everything to defend the nation in a time of war?