The “Don't Ask Don't Tell” policy is an American law which effectively prohibits people who are openly non-heterosexual from serving in the military. While the law specifically mentions homosexuals, bisexuals, asexuals, and people with other sexual orientations are often caught up in it as well, as are people with non-conventional lifestyles, such as people who are openly polyamorous or "kinky." The policy has attracted a great deal of public commentary from a variety of communities, ranging from conservatives who want to ban homosexuals from serving altogether to gays and lesbians who would like to enlist and remain open about their sexual identity.
Under the terms of the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy, homosexuals can serve in the military as long as they remain quiet about their sexual orientation, and questions about sexual orientation are forbidden. Disclosures of orientation, references to homosexual partners, public support of gay and lesbian causes, and other related behaviors can be grounds for discharge from the military. In the 15 years since the law was passed in 1993, almost 13,000 Americans were discharged from the military due to violations of the Don't Ask Don't Tell rule.
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The law was designed as a compromise between conservatives and President Bill Clinton, who had pledged to support gays and lesbians who wanted to serve. As long as non-heterosexuals in the military do not disclose their sexual orientations, either directly or through references, they cannot be investigated and discharged. This was viewed as a significant improvement over previous military policies, which allowed for investigations of suspected homosexuals.
Supporters of the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy argue that open homosexuals could have a negative impact on morale, unit cohesion, and discipline. People who are opposed to the policy believe that it constitutes discrimination, and that being forced to remain silent about one's sexual orientation amounts to oppression. Non-heterosexuals who have left the military have cited Don't Ask, Don't Tell as a source of extreme stress and misery. Many advocates point out that women were barred from serving in the military until 1948 with many of the same arguments, and that these arguments turned out to be specious once women were allowed into the military.
In 2008, serious review of Don't Ask Don't Tell began in Congress, sparked by growing public interest in the policy, commentary from activists, and statements by candidates in the Presidential election. Some congresspeople felt that the policy was outdated, and that the ban on serving while openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, or otherwise should be struck down.