The courage of Maj. Margaret Witt to challenge the military's "don't ask, don't tell" rule against gays was a key factor in its demise.

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AFTER years of legal turmoil and professional and personal hardship, the decision by Maj. Margaret Witt to retire from the Air Force Reserve is understandable. She courageously fought and won the right to be reinstated, but the moment has passed for her.

Some of the decisions surrounding her dismissal under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law are already beginning to sound like ancient history, though some of it is very recent history.

Witt, a skilled flight nurse with the 446th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, was initially suspended in 2004 when she was said to violate rules against gays serving openly in the military. She was dismissed in 2006, two years short of being eligible to retire.

Witt challenged the rules with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington. Their tenacity forced a legal review of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and also forced the military to examine the true cost of regulations that squandered the services of Witt and 13,500 other trained men and women since 1993. President Obama repealed “don’t ask, don’t tell” earlier this year.

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Witt was offered the opportunity to retire with full benefits, and she took it. She certainly earned it. What the country and the armed services lose is a skilled professional to look after loved ones who volunteer to go in harm’s way.

The military, however belatedly, is moving toward accepting the fact that gays and lesbians have, and do, and will continue to serve their country.

Just this week, legislation was signed in Delaware to recognize civil unions and comprehensive domestic partnerships. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted to change its constitution to allow gays and lesbians in same-sex relationships to be ordained as ministers, elders and deacons.

The stumbling block in America remains Congress, which is oblivious to the realities of U.S. lifestyles and sexual orientation even the military is working to accommodate.

Congratulations to Maj. Witt for her service and her personal courage on behalf of others, in and out of uniform.

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