Retired General Changes Mind on 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:23 PM EDT

( - A former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says Congress should seriously reconsider the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that forbids homosexuals and lesbians from serving in the military if they openly admit their sexual preferences.

In an op-ed in Tuesday's New York Times, retired Gen. John Shalikashvili -- who earlier supported the policy -- wrote, "I now believe that if gay men and lesbians served openly in the United States military, they would not undermine the efficacy of the armed forces."

He also says the U.S. military "has been stretched thin by our deployments in the Middle East, and we must welcome the service of any American who is willing and able to do the job."

A group that wants to end the ban on openly homosexual servicemembers welcomed Shalikashvili's op-ed.

"The counsel of military leaders increasingly supports repeal of the law," said C. Dixon Osburn, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN).

"Congress must, as General Shalikashvili urges, consider the overwhelming evidence of the past fourteen years. If they do, the clear answer is that we must lift the ban," Osburn added.

General Shalikashvili says he changed his mind after "a number of meetings with gay soldiers and marines, including some with combat experience in Iraq, and an openly gay senior sailor who was serving effectively as a member of a nuclear submarine crew."

He said the conversations, which took place last year, showed him "just how much the military has changed, and that gays and lesbians can be accepted by their peers."

According to SLDN, the Pentagon has dismissed more than 11,000 men and women under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" enforcement policy.

During his presidential campaign in 1992, President Bill Clinton advocated repealing the ban on homosexuals in the military. But in November 1993, Clinton signed a law reaffirming the long-standing principle that homosexuality is incompatible with military service.

The 1993 law says there is no constitutional right to serve in the armed forces; it says "success in combat" requires strong "unit cohesion" and "bonds of trust" among individual service members; and it says the presence of "persons who demonstrate a propensity of intent to engage in homosexual acts would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability."

The law notes that "the prohibition against homosexual conduct is a longstanding element of military law that continues to be necessary in the unique circumstances of military service."

On the other side of the argument, a group that supports the "gay ban" -- the Center for Military Readiness -- has long warned that lifting the ban would force the military to jettison traditional values in favor of a homosexual, "politically correct" agenda.

Allowing openly homosexual soldiers to serve in the military will depress, not boost, recruiting numbers, the Center for Military Readiness has argued.

See Earlier Story:Some Say Allowing Homosexuals Would Boost Military Recruitment (July 26, 2005)

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