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There have been gays in the American military as long as there has been an American military. But for more than 230 years they've had to hide their sexual identity from the men and women they served with.

That stupid and shameful anachronism will come to an end soon, thanks to the 111th Congress's decision to end the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. Support for repeal was bipartisan, and the margins were impressive: 250 to 175 in the House (with all of Oregon's representatives voting "yes" except our own lamentable Greg Walden) and 65 to 31 in the Senate (with Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley both in favor).

Homosexual behavior has always been prohibited in the US military, but the armed forces didn't begin actively excluding gays until World War II, when declaring yourself homosexual or even looking "effeminate" was grounds for rejection. (More than a few straight men took advantage of that policy to dodge the draft during the Vietnam War.)

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was instituted in 1993 as a compromise between Congress and President Bill Clinton, who had made a campaign pledge to end the ban on gays in the military. Gays were allowed to serve as long as they didn't reveal their sexual orientation. In return, the armed forces stopped asking recruits about it.

But the military brass never agreed to stop investigating reports that servicemen and women were homosexual or to stop prosecuting them if they were. The result was that since 1994, more than 12,000 men and women have been kicked out of our armed forces for no other offense than being gay.

It was an unjust and inhumane policy - and a logically indefensible one. The arguments against allowing openly gay men and women to serve - that it would make other troops uncomfortable, that it would be bad for morale, that it would "undermine good order and discipline" - are uncannily similar to those once used against allowing African-Americans to serve in the same units with whites and, later, allowing women to serve in combat roles. And they're just as flimsy.

Twenty-five nations, including Canada, Great Britain and Israel, allow gays to serve openly in their armed forces; there's no evidence it has hurt their morale or their effectiveness. Major American veterans' organizations have supported repeal of DADT. So do Defense Secretary Robert Gates and three of the four Joint Chiefs of Staff. And virtually every poll taken in the past year shows that a large majority of ordinary Americans do too.

Repeal of DADT removes the stain of hypocrisy from a country that lets gays fight and die for it, but forces them to do it in disguise. It advances the struggle of gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans for full and equal citizenship. What's even more important, it advances the principle that in this nation people are judged by what they do, not by who they are.

For that, Congress and President Obama deserve thanks not only from gay Americans but from all Americans. And they've earned GLASS SLIPPERS - 316 of them.


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