TIME TO LET GAYS SERVE OPENLY? Civil rights advances are often made during times of war -- when an oppressed group proves itself capable of fulfilling every obligation of citizenship. Women�s suffrage being buoyed by the increased presence of women in the workplace during World War I comes to mind, as does the 1948 desegregation of the military. So I wonder if gay rights advocates can make something out of this news, reported in The New York Times on Tuesday:

The Defense Department discharged 726 service members last year for being gay, up about 10 percent from 2004, figures released by a gay rights group show.

It�s interesting that gay marriage has replaced gays in the military as the hot button gay rights question, when the former one was never really resolved. And it might make sense to put open military service ahead of marriage on the gay rights agenda, considering, for example, that military desegregation preceded the repeal of anti-miscegenation laws. With the military over-stretched it would seem like now might be the right time to pursue it.

Of course, there is the inconvenient fact that even the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which released the numbers, acknowledges that the spike in gay discharges may be partly attributable to some members coming out as a way of leaving the military at a time when morale is especially low. But, then again, closing a loophole that lets soldiers off the hook in times of war could be seen as another selling point for the argument that gays should be allowed, and compelled, to serve like anyone else.

--Ben Adler

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