Editorial: 'Don't ask, don't tell' is finally buried

It's hard to believe there was a time when gay men and women were not allowed to disclose their sexuality while serving in the military. That time was last week.

Here in the land of free expression, those who put on a uniform were not even allowed to utter the words, "I'm gay" without fear of a dishonorable discharge. That practice should offend anyone who is even remotely patriotic.

We're glad Congress and President Obama finally put "don't ask, don't tell" to rest Tuesday. The policy has been discriminatory since President Clinton signed it, but it rang even more offensive in the last 10 years that we've been at war.

Gays and lesbians are the last minority group to be officially discriminated against. The "don't ask, don't tell" policy was meant as a way to keep homosexuals in the military, but it created an unbearable situation for those who had to keep their private lives a secret and essentially lie every day about who they are. That burden has been lifted, but there are still restrictions that cut the other way.

Gay and lesbian couples may not use military housing, nor may individuals pursue discrimination claims if they believe they have been mistreated because homosexuals are not listed as a federally protected class like other minorities and women. This is outright discrimination. So there is much work to be done to equalize and legitimize the status of gays and lesbians.

President Obama could help by reversing his opposition to same-sex marriage, and begin to turn the wheels for repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. It is odd to live in a world where Dick Cheney supports gay marriage and Obama, at least publicly, opposes it.

Marriage for same-sex couples should be a federal right, not a state-by-state battle, won or lost at the ballot box, as it was here in California and in many other states.

The end of "don't ask, don't tell" also gives a glimmer of hope to young people, especially students in middle and high schools, some of whom have been tormented — even reportedly driven to suicide — by bullies empowered and enabled by an official policy that created shame and mandated lying. It tells kids to hold their heads high and lets them deflect the verbal slings and arrows of ignorant and callous classmates.

In many ways it's mind-boggling that gay men and women chose to serve a nation that refused to acknowledge them. These servicemen and women clearly loved their country more than it loved them. And we should all take a moment to reflect on and thank them for that.

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