The U.S. House takes up "don't ask, don't tell" — the law banning gays from serving openly in the military — this week. It is time to repeal a policy that no longer serves the needs or interests of the country.

THE time for hemming and hawing about gays in the military is over. Congress should move promptly to abandon the outdated “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and welcome gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has given lukewarm support to a White House-backed plan for a vote as early as Thursday in the U.S. House to repeal the 1993 law banning gays from serving openly.

Gates wanted to wait until a study is completed in December. The question now is not whether to change the rules, but how best to implement the new approach.

But the White House and Gates support legislative action now because policies would not change until the president, defense secretary and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff determine the military is ready.

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The country is moving faster than the politicians. Younger generations of Americans don’t carry the old baggage of discomfort with gays in the military. They see these men and women as valued members of the armed forces who contribute time, skills and sometimes their lives — just like everybody else.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” is past-tense policy. It reflects a nation halfhearted or confused about its sentiments toward gay and lesbian soldiers.

No matter how much the economy rattles, no matter how angry or afraid voters feel, equity for a group of people treated like second-class citizens is something Congress should tackle now, while giving the military time to implement the changes.

Ditch “don’t ask, don’t tell” and welcome gays and lesbians to serve in the military openly — with appropriate respect and gratitude from their country.