Military's 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Debate Continues

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Gays and lesbians open about their sexuality are currently barred from serving in the military, but “don’t ask, don’t tell” is up for debate in Congress and there’s growing public support to repeal the policy.

It's been the U.S. military's policy for nearly 20 years -- military officials don't ask if you're gay, and as long as homosexuals don't tell, they can serve in the armed forces.

But new legislation and a renewed debate may soon change that.  

“The new LGBT law would say that regardless of your personal feelings, people would have to get used to the idea of being exposed to persons who might be sexually attracted to them,” said Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness.  “That is inherently disruptive.”

Legislation introduced in Congress forbids the military from discriminating against homosexuals and bisexuals and the Defense Department has begun a year long internal study of the issue.

Some fear a change would leave military chaplains in a perpetual battle with their consciences.

But gay rights activists say "don't ask, don't tell" punishes otherwise well qualified-men and women like Dan Choi, an Arabic linguist and West Point graduate who was discharged because he's gay.

“I'm just a soldier,” he said.  “I raise my right hand and I say I want to defend the protections and the rights of all American people, the rights of free speech, to religion and to love.”

And the civilian public is warming up to Choi's appeals.

A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found 75 percent of those surveyed think homosexuals should be allowed to serve openly in the military.  That's up 31 points from 1993 when the "don't ask, don't tell" policy was created.

Next month, officials are expected to suggest ways to relax enforcement of the law in an effort to minimize so called "third party outings" where a service member is kicked out after being reported by others to be gay. 

However, a complete repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" is still likely years away.

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