Gates' statement had all the usual Gates touches: a commitment to objective, calm, and professional review. And it has a plea to outsiders not to overly politicize this by using soldiers and their families as pawns in the debate. The bottom line is a 45 day review to make sure that the current policy is being applied fairly and a year-long review to examine every aspect of this proposed change.

But Mullen's statement was a stunner. He did more than endorse this long process of inquiry and debate and to ensure that the current policy is implemented more fairly - so that anyone with a grievance against a gay servicemember can out him or her and end his or her career.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff stated before Congress that he personally believed the policy violated a core principle of the US military: integrity. He said that requiring servicemembers to lie as part of their duty to their country violated their integrity as soldiers and the military's integrity itself. He said, in other words, that the current policy is dishonorable. I agree with him.

He remains open to competing arguments and data as this process goes forward, as he should.

But as of now, he believes the Clinton policy violates the integrity of the US military. I don't think you could be much fairer than this approach and although I remain impatient for an end to this ban, I also believe it is only responsible to develop a careful plan to implement it and to ensure that the core task of the military, gay and straight, remains the defense of this country and its interests around the world. 

Now let's do what we can to keep the debate calm and reasoned and civil. Mullen and Gates set a tone the rest of us, on both sides, need to follow. Because lasting reform will become impossible without it. And servicemembers, gay and straight, deserve to be able to do their job with this matter finally behind them.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.