CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gradually, American blacks won legal equality in the historic civil rights struggle. Then women, handicapped Americans, the elderly, the foreign-born and other minorities won their battles for equal human rights.
Now gays are on the brink of attaining equal citizenship, after centuries of persecution. A major victory could be looming in Congress. The Senate seems likely to join the House in revoking Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the prejudiced law that expels gays from the U.S. military if their orientation is discovered.
As West Virginia's ACLU director outlined Tuesday, 14,000 dedicated, patriotic men and women have been thrown out of the armed services since 1994 because investigators proved that they bore the disapproved gender orientation.
It takes courage to enlist in the military and face possible death in a war zone. Those who enter this service to their country deserve gratitude -- not persecution as undesirables.
During the current lame duck session, while Democrats still wield power in Congress, they're attempting to give homosexuals and lesbians full equality in the armed services. Republicans mostly oppose it -- as they opposed other equality crusades in the past. After new GOP electees take office in January, the chance for fair treatment probably will dim.
A long-awaited Pentagon report Tuesday showed that a huge majority of "straight" service members doesn't object to serving alongside gays.
We hope the Senate quickly erases Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Democratic senators should ignore conservatives, who were wrong in all previous human rights struggles. They're wrong again on gay equality. It's coming, inevitably -- whether or not Congress acts this month.
However, it would be wise to gain this advance now, while Democrats still have enough strength to vote for equality.