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[Excerpt] In 1993, new laws and regulations pertaining to homosexuality and U.S. military service came into effect reflecting a compromise in policy. This compromise, colloquially referred to as “don’t ask, don’t tell,” holds that the presence in the armed forces of persons who demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in same-sex acts would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion which are the essence of military capability. Under this policy, but not the law, service members are not to be asked about nor allowed to discuss their “same-sex orientation”. The law itself does not prevent service members from being asked about their sexuality. This compromise notwithstanding, the issue has remained politically contentious.

Prior to the 1993 compromise, the number of individuals discharged for homosexuality was generally declining. Since that time, the number of discharges for same-sex conduct has generally increased until recently. However, analysis of these data shows no statistically significant difference in discharge rates for these two periods.

In recent years, several Members of Congress have expressed interest in amending “don’t ask, don’t tell.” At least one bill that would repeal the law and replace it with a policy of nondiscrimination on the basis of sexual orientation—H.R. 1283—has been introduced in the 111th Congress.


Suggested Citation
Burrelli, D. F. (2009). “Don’t ask, don’t tell:” The law and military policy on same-sex behavior. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.