Terrorism is not the only topic currently under attack in Iraq and Afghanistan. On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, brought a proposal before Congress to overturn “Don’t ask, Don’t tell,” a much-discussed regulation that prohibits gay people from serving in the United States military. The policy, ironically enacted for the betterment of the gay community, has afflicted countless men and women, along with their families and troops.

We live in a time during which racial or religious discrimination is intolerable. And we live in a country that was founded on the ideal of freedom of speech. So how is it acceptable for people to be forced to hide their beliefs or be subjected to such judgmental punishment if they refuse to do so?

Former President Bill Clinton used this policy as a scapegoat instead of overturning the ban against gay men and women entirely. And while it was an improvement, it was still a far stretch from the most moral option. Since it was created in 1993, the policy has discharged over 12,000 people, whether they were actually gay or simply suspected to be.

U.S. Army Lieutenant Dan Choi, a graduate of the West Point Military Academy, was an Arabic translator specialist for the United States Army before he was dismissed in June 2009. Choi, who was referred to by many members of Congress as an “exceptional” soldier, represents a large group of people who are key figures in our military but are punished for telling the truth. Discharging an Arabic translator — a position that is already difficult to fill — is a hazardous decision. Without proficient Arabic speakers, there is inevitable chaos amongst civilians, leaders and soldiers.

This past November, ABC News reported that over 52 percent of the population disapproves of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our country is stuck in a commitment that puts thousands of our troops in harms way. The men and women that enlist understand they are knowingly and willingly stepping into potentially dire situations. In circumstances such as these, the military is in no position to turn away anyone willing to fight. And in doing so they are thinning a population that is already too thin.

According to a Gallup poll conducted last May, over 69 percent of American adults — including liberals, conservatives and independents — were in favor of allowing openly gay people in the military. And while some argue that the policy is in place to protect the gay community, whom they believe would face uncontrollable backlash from other soldiers, many military men are standing up against this claim. General Colin Powell, the nation’s top military officer in the 1990s and a supporter of the regulation under President Clinton, is now speaking out that it should be overturned.

In a country as strong and advanced as ours, military authorities should be able to find a way to allow men and women to publicly express their views without retaliation from their peers. Around the globe, there are over 30 countries that currently allow openly gay men and women in their military service, including the United Kingdom — a country that fights with us abroad. This number has in fact increased by about 30 percent in the past three years, with seven more countries lifting the ban since 2007.

Congress is in a position to finally bury this topic. There is no fair way to compromise. All people, regardless of their sexual orientation, are qualified and capable of serving in the military. And in “the land of the free,” it’s about time we start letting our soldiers live freely.

Emily Orley is a senior editorial page editor.

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