Open Gates

Kevin Drum notes — via Matt Yglesias — that there’s a really overwhelming margin for junking the Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell law that’s kept out homosexuals out of the military. The topline total from a recent Gallup poll is 69 percent of all respondents support someone’s desire to serve in the military regardless of sexual orientation, up from 63 percent in 2004. (Interestingly, 58 percent of self-identified conservatives favor equal rights for gays in the military, up from 46 percent in 2004.) With Rep. John McHugh (R-NY) indicating his willingness to overturn the law as Army Secretary, the stars appear to be aligning for the end of the controversial measure. My pal Tim Starks at CQ adds an interesting historical angle to the picture in a (sadly) firewalled piece: When he was CIA Director almost 20 years ago, Defense Secretary Bob Gates took active measures to make the CIA a more inclusive agency for gays to serve within.

Gates, without any public fanfare, ended the practice of asking job applicants in lie-detector tests about their sexual orientation. He also halted investigations of whether employees were gay as part of the process for renewing security clearances. And the agency made it known that sexual orientation by itself would not be an employment barrier.

Gates and the first Bush administration went only so far, says Democratic Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, who in 1987 became the first openly gay member of Congress. Frank says he unsuccessfully pressed Bush to revoke the Eisenhower executive order, which Clinton ultimately did. Now, noted Frank Kameny, a longtime gay rights activist, “there is an open organization of gay CIA employees.”

As Starks’s sources note, Gates is a cipher when it comes to Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell, and his history is hardly determinative. But the Obama administration appears to be moving, however slowly, toward a repeal. Gates has already demonstrated how to break down barriers to equal service.

Crossposted to The Streak.

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Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman