A long-awaited moment is finally here: Tuesday marks the formal repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Ultimately, strong public opposition (and an overwhelming practical—and moral—case) carried the day, though the policy lingered for 18 years and maintains a small but determined group of supporters. Many of those supporters have argued that repeal will harm military readiness and damage the national interest. Are they right?
A wide swath of research says simply: No. Consider a 2008 article in the Duke Journal of Gender Law and Policy,written by four scholars from the University of California, Santa Barbara and UCLA. Summarizing an array of studies (and responding to critics of DADT repeal), the authors report several reasons to predict that repeal will be a positive change. First, as the study notes, it has a wide-ranging impact: One credible 2004 estimate surmised that as many as 65,000 currently-serving troops were gay. Moreover, implementation of the policy, according to the Government Accountability Office, cost nearly $200 million during its first ten years—and according to an independent study conducted by several leading experts, it may have cost nearly twice that much. There were other costs, too: the dismissal of thousands of troops, including highly-valuable Arabic linguists. Finally, the authors report that most scholars consider the military to be ready for the change: A 2006 poll of troops who had served in Afghanistan or Iraq found that over 70 percent were personally comfortable interacting with gays and lesbians. And recall that in 2010, the Pentagon’s comprehensive study of military opinion found that roughly the same percentage of service members said that DADT repeal would have positive, mixed, or no impact at all on military effectiveness. Besides, the authors note, allowing gay and lesbian soldiers to serve openly was a mostly smooth change even in countries like Canada, where opposition within the military was stronger at the time of the policy shift. That history suggests that inclusion and acceptance may ultimately become the norm, and future generations may find all of this bluster and controversy difficult to understand. If acceptance and inclusion someday become normal and unremarkable, that will be reason to celebrate.