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Skorton letter calls for repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

Cornell President David Skorton has written a letter to members of the U.S. Congress asking for repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," a policy that bans openly gay people from serving in the U.S. military. The letter has also been signed by four other university presidents.

The U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote May 27 on legislation that would repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." The amendment, sponsored by Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Penn.), is part of a House bill that would authorize the defense budget for fiscal year 2011. The Senate also may vote on the bill on May 27.

For the repeal to take effect, the House must pass the bill, the Senate approve similar legislation and President Barack Obama sign a joint bill into law.

The amendment would repeal the 1993 law that prohibits commanders from asking about an individual's sexual orientation and forbids military personnel from disclosing it. Since "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was instituted, more than 12,000 service members have been dismissed because of their sexual orientation.

Almost all Western countries permit homosexuals to serve openly in the military, including Britain, France and Israel. Among European Union forces, only Greece bans gays from serving.

Skorton's letter states: "From our perspective as educators, this policy is detrimental to both our students and the nation. We promote diversity on our campuses -- and strive to instill the value of respect for all people, including those different from ourselves -- not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it strengthens our academic communities and society as a whole.

"Our nation needs the best and brightest at the highest levels of the military, and all of our students -- not just some -- deserve to have the opportunity to aspire to and reach their goals, whatever they may be. They also deserve the right to defend their country in these very challenging times."

The presidents of Columbia University, University of Wisconsin, Syracuse University and New York University have signed Skorton's letter thus far. It has been sent to the Armed Forces committees and the New York congressional delegation, with a copy to U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to ask for their support.

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Claudia Wheatley