THE WILLIAMS Institute at UCLA law school estimates that about 2.2 percent of the U.S. military is lesbian, gay or bisexual. So it's quite certain that, among the war dead that we honor on Monday, are gay men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country - while being forced to hide their true selves.
Which makes it more than fitting that this Memorial Day may mark the end of the noxious "Don't ask, don't tell" policy enacted into law by a Democratic Congress and signed by President Clinton in 1993. DADT has forced soldiers to hide their sexual orientation and left them vulnerable to vendettas. It has ended the military service of 13,500 troops for being gay.
A compromise reached between the White House and Congress on Monday could finally end it - and should. An amendment attached to an authorization of funds for the military would repeal "Don't ask" following the completion (by December) of a Pentagon report on how to best implement the policy.
Introduced Tuesday, the "Murphy Amendment" yesterday passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a 234-194 vote. The Senate Armed Services Committee also approved the compromise.
The amendment is named for Rep. Patrick Murphy, the Bucks County Democrat who was the first Iraq war veteran elected to Congress and who has been the point man in the campaign to end discrimination against gay soldiers "willing to take a bullet for their country."
While we've supported an immediate repeal of DADT, as well as legislation that allows gays to serve openly in the military, we are persuaded that the Murphy Amendment is the smartest path to take. There may not be enough votes to repeal DADT in the next Congress, so waiting until after the Pentagon finishes its study could mean no repeal at all.
As Gen. John Shalikashvili, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, points out, DADT is both a law and federal policy. Without a congressional vote to repeal the law, the Defense Department wouldn't have the authority to implement its own recommendations. Besides, a vote to repeal takes Congress out of the process, returning authority to the military - and the commander in chief - to set rules about gay troops, which was the situation before 1993.
It is possible that, as civil libertarians fear, the Pentagon could reinstitute the total ban on gays' serving in the military that existed before DADT - highly unlikely given the support for equal treatment expressed by President Obama and military leaders.
It's also remotely possible that one of Obama's successors could try to reverse a policy of nondiscrimination, but that's even less likely. Once discrimination against gays in the military ends, it will become a nonissue. It already is a nonissue among most of the troops on the ground. As Murphy has said, his comrades in Baghdad "didn't care if someone was gay or straight; we cared if they could handle their M-4 assault rifle."
He has it exactly right: "To remove honorable, talented and patriotic troops from serving contradicts the American values our military fights for and our nation holds dear" - values for which our war dead, both straight and gay, gave the last full measure of devotion.