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EDITORIAL: Repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell

After 16 years of disingenuous discrimination against gay personnel, the military's top officials can now be counted among the voices for repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell.

Following President Barack Obama's lead, the secretary of Defense and the nation's top military official said Tuesday that the military would look to stop discharging people outted by a third party, and begin laying the groundwork to accommodate repeal. It was a crucial turning point. Don't Ask Don't Tell, the 1993 law that mandates the discharge of openly gay and lesbian service members, should be dumped.

In an incisive appraisal, Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said people shouldn't be forced to "lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens. It comes down to integrity - theirs as individuals and ours as an institution." To which should be added, ours as a nation built on principles of equality and individual rights.

Gen. Colin Powell supported Don't Ask Don't Tell as chairman of the Joint Chiefs in 1993. But noting the change in attitudes since then, he too now supports reversing the law.

Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates said planning for repeal could take a year. But it is Congress that will determine the pace of change. With skittish members up for re-election, it may take time to gather the votes for repeal. If that's what it takes, so be it. But legislative timidity and bureaucratic inertia should not become excuses for failure in this battle for equal rights. hN