Repeal of military's gay ban coming either in two weeks or two years

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Recent GOP victories and new survey findings on gays in the military have each altered the timetable for repealing the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. The ban on gays serving openly will either end in the next two weeks or it will sit in legislative limbo for at least the next two years.

An extensive survey by military leaders at the Pentagon found that roughly 70 percent of troops were either supportive or ambivalent about a repeal. That leaves those like Sen. John McCain — grasping on to strictly hetero memories of foxholes and communal showers — in the minority.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen followed the report's release with a call for a repeal, accompanied with a "reasonable" timeline to implement the change.

And even McCain seemed to acquiesce to the inevitable. After months of fighting the change, McCain suggested during hearings last week that the policy would eventually face repeal, just not now. What McCain is fishing for is time, and it's understandable why.

Come 2011, the balance of power in the Congress will have shifted Right, and it's reasonable to assume the votes aren't there for repeal. What's even more reasonable to assume is that the issue wouldn't even make it to another vote in the newly GOP-led House.

The first hurdle it would have to go through is Congressman Joe "You Lie" Wilson's Military Personnel Subcommittee.

Wilson, a South Carolina Republican, told C-SPAN he was happy to hold hearings on the issue next spring, but he clearly telegraphed the results.

"As we have hearings next spring, this will become clear: that the system is working as it is," Wilson said. "It does not need to be changed."

Wilson's assertion that the system is working seems to run counter to the facts. According to the recently completed report, "92 percent of troops serving with someone they believed to be gay thought their unit's ability to work together was either very good, good, or neither good nor poor."

Yet, more than 13,000 military service members — troops who have improved the productivity of their unit or, at best, carried their share of the water — have been forced out of military service when it was revealed that they're gay. And we're not talking about getting caught mid-coitus. We're talking about personal e-mails between friends or lovers or affectionate Facebook page pictures or status updates from San Francisco.

An untold number more were chased out over fears that their sexual orientation would be revealed, and even more have simply avoided military service all together because of the anti-gay policy.

Somehow, Wilson still suggests that Don't Ask, Don't Tell works because it "respects the privacy" of servicemen and women. The problem is that the policy, as enforced, isn't narrow enough to strictly address private sexual acts, things I'd be happy to neither ask nor tell Joe Wilson.

The policy instead is used to discriminate against gays and lesbians regardless of what they do in the bedroom. This isn't about cuddling in the foxhole; this is about the anxiety over saying, "I love you," in an e-mail or phone call home, fearing this tiny bit of affection might cut short decades of service to this country.

What's most ironic about this intense debate in Washington is that it will likely be the last hard fight in the repeal process. Once this hurdle is cleared, servicemen and women will do what they're supposed to: accept the judgement of their superiors and protect our country.

We heard something similar earlier this year in an interview with S.C. Adjutant General-elect Bob Livingston, whose primary responsibility will be leading the state's national guard.

"We will probably have some individual challenges," Livingston told us about the repeal's effect. "But, overall, military people are well-disciplined. We're serving because we want to serve our country ... Because of our common mission and our bond with one another — you get into combat and you don't care."

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