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Former Defense Secretary William Cohen Says Congress Should Re-Visit “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

WASHINGTON, DC – In an interview on Tuesday evening with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, former Secretary of Defense William Cohen indicated that Congressional leaders should re-visit the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on lesbian, gay and bisexual service personnel. “It’s time to start thinking about it and starting to discuss it,” Cohen said in an interview regarding a January 2 op-ed by retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili. “I think what we're hearing from within the military is what we're hearing from within society, that we're becoming a much more open, tolerant society for diverse opinions and orientation,” Cohen said, referring to the ban as “a policy of discrimination.”

WASHINGTON, DC – In an interview on Tuesday evening with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, former Secretary of Defense William Cohen indicated that Congressional leaders should re-visit the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on lesbian, gay and bisexual service personnel. “It’s time to start thinking about it and starting to discuss it,” Cohen said in an interview regarding a January 2 op-ed by retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili. “I think what we're hearing from within the military is what we're hearing from within society, that we're becoming a much more open, tolerant society for diverse opinions and orientation,” Cohen said, referring to the ban as “a policy of discrimination.”

Cohen’s remarks are the first by a Defense Secretary indicating support for re-evaluating the law.

“The dominos propping up ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ are falling, and they are falling quickly,” said C. Dixon Osburn, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. “It is clear that prominent military leaders question the wisdom of maintaining the ban. As three service members continue to lose their jobs every day, our armed forces are experiencing a significant talent drain. Those who know our military best now realize that the ban is not only unjust, but also unproductive.”

Cohen went on to say that “we ought to have discussions, some hearings,” and noted that “I think that (incoming Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman) Levin and others will ask for hearings and listen to testimony.”

Cohen’s remarks follow both Shalikasvili’s op-ed and a December 2006 Zogby/Michael D. Palm Center poll finding that most service personnel are comfortable with lesbians and gays. General Shalikasvili wrote in the New York Times that, “Last year I held a number of meetings with gay soldiers and marines, including some with combat experience in Iraq, and an openly gay senior sailor who was serving effectively as a member of a nuclear submarine crew. These conversations showed me just how much the military has changed, and that gays and lesbians can be accepted by their peers.”

Other prominent military leaders, including Lieutenant General Claudia Kennedy, USA (Ret.), RADM John Huston, USN (Ret.) and former West Point superintendent Daniel Chrstiman have also expressed support for re-visiting the law. “I think it will absolutely happen,” Hutson said when asked by the Associated Press if repeal is imminent.

“All of the data indicate that change on this issue is inevitable,” said Aaron Belkin, director of the Michael D. Palm Center. “The vast majority of service members are personally comfortable working and interacting with gays and lesbians, and there is only so long that Congress can ignore the evidence."

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