Military opponents of the US “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy banning openly gay soldiers from serving in the military spoke out this week in Washington, in the latest criticism of the legislation.
Coinciding with the law’s 14th anniversary Friday, 28 retired generals and admirals put their names to a letter to Congress, demanding that the controversial legislation be scrapped.
“We respectfully urge Congress to repeal the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy,” the letter said.
“As General Colin Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said when the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy was enacted, it is not the place of the military or those in senior leadership to make moral judgments,” it said.
“As is the case in Britain, Israel and other nations which allow gays and lesbians to serve openly, our service members are professionals who are able to work together effectively despite differences in race, gender, religion and sexuality,” the officers said.
The letter marked the single largest number of generals and admirals from the US armed forces to come out against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” at one time, according to a statement issued by the Log Cabin Republicans, a conservative organisation that supports equal treatment for homosexuals.
Since “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” came into force in 1993, 12,000 soldiers have been forced to leave the military, either because they refused to hide their homosexuality or because they were denounced by fellow soldiers.
On Friday, human rights organisations teamed up with groups like Log Cabin Republicans and a legal defence network for soldiers to plant 12,000 American flags on the National Mall in Washington to recognise the men and women who have suffered because of the policy.
The generals and admirals who signed the letter to Congress cited “scholarly data” which show that around 65,000 gays and lesbians serve in the US armed forces.
According to a poll conducted by CNN/Opinion Research Corporation in May, 79 percent of Americans think homosexuals should be allowed to serve in the military.
Another survey conducted at the end of last year by the Zogby polling company showed that nearly three-quarters of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan said they had no problem fighting alongside homosexual comrades.
Several lawsuits have been filed against the legislation to date, but the legal system has always ruled on the side of the military.
The issue came to the fore during Wednesday’s Republican presidential debate on CNN, when a retired general asked why gays could not serve openly in the US military.
The television chain found itself under fire when the general in question identified himself as a member of a focus group working for the camp of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
But while leading Democratic candidates criticise the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law, Republican candidates favour a status quo.
In March, general Peter Pace, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sparked an uproar by declaring homosexuality “immoral.”
He clarified later, however, that he was expressing his personal opinion.
On Friday, several former officers spoke in Washington about their dismissal from the military because of their declared homosexuality.
Rhonda Davis, who served in the navy, bitterly complained the military accepted people with criminal pasts and poor educational backgrounds while dismissing others for their sexual orientation and honesty about it.