- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 18, 2008

ANNAPOLIS | More than 100 retired generals and admirals Monday called for repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays so they can serve openly, according to a statement obtained by the Associated Press.

The move by the military veterans confronts the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama, a Democrat, with a political and cultural issue that dogged former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, early in his administration.

“As is the case with Great Britain, Israel, and other nations that allow gays and lesbians to serve openly, our service members are professionals who are able to work together effectively despite differences in race, gender, religion, and sexuality,” the officers wrote.

While Mr. Obama has expressed support for repeal, he said during the presidential campaign that he would not do so on his own - an indication that he would tread carefully to prevent the issue from becoming a drag on his agenda. Mr. Obama said he would instead work with military leaders to build consensus on removing the ban on openly gay service members.

“Although I have consistently said I would repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ I believe that the way to do it is make sure that we are working through a process, getting the Joint Chiefs of Staff clear in terms of what our priorities are going to be,” Mr. Obama in September told the Philadelphia Gay News.

Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for Obama’s transition team, declined comment.

The issue of gays in the military became a flash point early in the Clinton administration as Mr. Clinton tried to fulfill a campaign promise to end the military’s ban on homosexuals. His efforts created the current compromise policy - ending the ban but prohibiting active-duty service members from openly acknowledging they are gay.

But it came at a political cost. The resulting debate divided service members and veterans, put Democrats on the defensive and provided cannon fodder for social conservatives and Republican critics who questioned Mr. Clinton’s patriotism and standing with the military.

Retired Adm. Charles R. Larson, a four-star admiral and two-time superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy who signed the statement with 104 other retired admirals and generals, said Mr. Clinton’s approach was flawed because he rushed to change military culture.

Last year, 28 former generals and admirals signed a similar statement.

Adm. Larson, who has a gay daughter, acknowledged the new administration likely will have to address more pressing issue such as the economy and the war in Iraq.

He was Kathleen Kennedy Townsend’s choice as lieutenant governor in the 2002 Maryland gubernatorial race.

Data showing there are about 1 million gay and lesbian veterans in the United States, and about 65,000 gays and lesbians currently serving in the military.

The military discharged roughly 12,340 people from 1994 to 2007 for violating the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, according to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a military watchdog group. Last year, 627 military personnel were discharged under the policy.