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A Study in Contrasts on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

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It may be the latest sign of the growing divide between North and South, so to speak. Or, to find a more optimistic silver lining, a hopeful sign of things to come here at home.

Earlier this morning, the government of Argentina, an increasingly welcoming South American country when it comes to lesbians and gays, officially ended its prohibition on open service in the armed forces. Under the leadership of President Cristina Kirchner, the country rolled out a welcome mat for gay troops with an official policy of open service. "[W]ith this new system, gay men or lesbian women who wish to train in the forces should encounter no impediment, nor any military retaliation areas," AG Magazine reported today.

The move puts Argentina in good company. Few nations continue to exclude qualified lesbian and gay troops from their armed forces, and most of the world's most effective militaries - including Great Britain, Canada and others - long ago ended their military bans. Membership in the European Union, in fact, requires lifting any remaining laws or policies that bar gay citizens from service. And from the most progressive (Sweden) to the most religious (Israel) nations on the globe, there is a recognition that qualification - and not discrimination - should determine who is eligible to serve.

Yet, even while Argentina takes a giant step forward on the issue, the United States, at the very same moment, continues to offer a study in contrasts.

On the same day our neighbor to the south lifts its ban on gay troops, the debate rolls on here at home. This afternoon, Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher (D-CA) will once again introduce the Military Readiness Enhancement Act (MREA), a Congressional bill to repeal the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ban in our own military. And while her legislation continues to slowly build support in Congress, it has yet to attract the level of support needed to move out of committee for a vote on the floor. That is unacceptable, and, as Argentina reminds us this morning, leaves us far behind our allies - to the north, south, east and west - when it comes to prioritizing military readiness ahead of nationalized prejudice.

There is no doubt that Congresswoman Tauscher has been an able leader on repeal efforts in the House. Since taking the lead on repeal legislation following the departure of Massachusetts lawmaker Marty Meehan, she has increased the number of co-sponsors supporting a change in the law and helped to move the debate forward in the media and on the Hill. But Tauscher's action has been met with stubborn inaction from many in Washington who should know better. In fact, it is those who say they champion a strong military, and those who say they "support the troops," who have been most steadfast in their refusal to support an end to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Yet, not one has effectively explained why limiting the military's recruiting pool - even while relaxing the standards recruits must meet to enlist - helps make our military stronger or our country safer.

Instead, some have continued to put prejudice ahead of patriotism. Hiding behind the discredited rhetoric spouted by far-right activists like Elaine Donnelly of the so-called Center for Military Readiness, they have chosen to stick behind the status quo - and stay behind the times - out of a fear that Donnelly and others will attempt to re-ignite the 1993 debate and use gays in the military as a political wedge issue.

But as President Obama - and, now, President Kirchner - have reminded us, this is not 1993. And our country is increasingly embracing, and finding the wisdom in, bold proposals that challenge outdated laws and past mistakes and move us into the 21st century. It is past time to eliminate impediments to our country's ideals and break down the barriers that don't allow gay patriots to serve.

Simply put, we cannot allow a first-rate military to be bogged down with third world policies built on stereotypes, misinformation and the outdated views of a few.

Eva Peron, who Kristina Kirchner has often been compared to, once said, "I have one thing that counts, and that is my heart; it burns in my soul, it aches in my flesh, and it ignites my nerves."

This morning, as the people of Peron's country (and the leader of the party that still bears her name), show us that progress is possible, the time has come to find the Evitas among us here in the United States, too. On this day, we must ask: Who will find the heart - and ignite their nerves - to finally do away with this heartless law?

One of the last, worst divides between north and south - and between America and the civilized world - must finally fall.