Originally published on Advocate.com August 21 2003 11:00 PM ET
A retired senior Navy admiral has called for an end to the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy barring gays and lesbians from serving openly in the armed services. Rear Admiral John D. Hutson, who served as judge advocate general for the Navy, told the National Law Journal that the ban is "virtually unworkable in the military." Hutson argues that the policy is a "quintessential example of a bad compromise" and that the "don't ask, don't tell" regulations are a "charade" that "demeans the military as an honorable institution."
Hutson, who retired in 2000, now lives with his wife in New Hampshire, where he serves as dean and president of the Franklin Pierce Law Center. As JAG, Hutson was the senior uniformed attorney in the Department of the Navy. His job was to oversee all legal issues in the Navy, including the enforcement of the antigay policy. In an interview this week with the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Hutson said he initially supported the policy, concluding that "a satisfactory resolution was impossible then." Since it was hammered out in 1993, however, much has changed, he said. "At that time we thought the sky could fall." Hutson said. "To completely overturn the policy ran the risk of undermining our ability to complete our mission." But with the benefit of over a decade of experience with the policy and with what he called a "somewhat more enlightened population, particularly among younger people," he now believes it's time to end the ban. "That was then, and this is now," he said. "I am now convinced, as I was not then, that the military could survive" lifting the ban entirely.
According to the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military, defenders of the ban have long argued that allowing gays to serve openly would impair unit cohesion and undermine military readiness. But a growing number of observers now argue that the ban itself, not the presence of gays, may threaten morale, cohesion, and performance. Last year the policy faced a barrage of criticism when Americans learned that nearly two dozen Army linguists, many specialists in Arabic, had been discharged under "don't ask, don't tell." Hutson said that ending the ban could help strengthen the military. "Eliminating the policy, on balance now, would serve a greater good and in many respects would foster cohesion. Unburdened by this odious policy, the Department of Defense might come out stronger and more able to defend the country." He explained that this is not only because more people could join or remain in the service but because the public's support of the military could increase. "There is right now what I perceive to be this blemish on [the armed forces], and it ought to be removed."
Since Congress made the gay ban a federal statute, the Pentagon cannot overturn the policy without congressional action. But Hutson said that even though Congress would need to act to repeal the ban, the Department of Defense could take the lead and use its influence to reverse the policy.