When it comes to arguments about gays in the military, issues of unit cohesion and combat effectiveness often come up as reasons against repealing what is known as Don't Ask Don't Tell.

What is often left out of the argument is the possibility of the advantages of openly admitting gays and lesbians in the U.S. armed forces. Ronald Krebs, an associate professor of political science at the University of Minnesota, makes a free-market argument: Excluding otherwise qualified applicants because of their sexual orientation limits military effectiveness.

"When you exclude substantial portions of your potential labor force from the market, whether on grounds of race or gender, or sexual orientation or any number of other factors, you are, definitely, not bringing the most qualified person to the task," Krebs says.

Krebs is the author of "Fighting for Rights: Military Service and the Politics of Citizenship," which explores how and when the military's policies of participation frame and shape minorities' struggle for citizenship rights. Krebs said the military has actually been ahead of the curve in other earlier social movements, particularly racial desegregation.

Racial integration of the U.S. military began by necessity, when white units in Korea were running out of men, and black units, which were largely confined to support roles, were consistently overstaffed. Commanders found themselves replenishing the white units with black soldiers. Segregation within the military services did not officially end until Sept. 30, 1954, when the last all-black unit had been abolished.

If the economy improves, the all-volunteer military could find itself wanting, Krebs says. Already there are significant gaps in some skilled jobs, notably linguists and interpreters with expertise in Arabic and Pashto (Afghani), positions that require money and time to fill.

"If there are concerns about recruitment, you are cutting off a particular population that might otherwise be inclined to serve," Krebs says.

Mark Brunswick • 612-673-4434