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Today’s newspaper carries two stories that offer hopeful good news.

The headline story noted that the nation’s top military leaders are finally starting to talk seriously about ending the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that allows homosexual men and women to serve only if they keep their sexual orientation in the closet. If their sexual identity becomes known, no matter how long or how well they have served, they get drummed out of the corps.

Opponents argue that allowing gays to serve openly would be bad for morale, but I believe even stronger arguments can be made that requiring people to live a lie is a greater detriment to building esprit de corps. The bulk of our troops are younger adults who, for the most part, grew up in a different culture and don’t share the homophobia of some of their elders. A policy of openness that allows troops to be honest about who they are would not only help the armed forces with their recruiting problems, but could also build greater trust in the ranks.

Many politicians will no doubt oppose the change for fear of stirring up the bigotry of their more conservative constituents, but I think they know, at heart, it’s the right thing to do.

The second bit of good news comes in the form of a wide-reaching federal study that shows incidents of serious child abuse have decreased significantly, especially sexual abuse. The problem has certainly not gone away — more than half a million children in the U.S. suffered sexual, physical, or emotional abuse in 2005-2006, according to study estimates. Even so, that’s a huge drop from the three-quarters of a million children estimated to have suffered abuse in 1993, the focus of a previous study.

Officials say a crackdown on abusers, coupled with greater public awareness and a public intolerance of the practice have contributed to the decline — along with an increase in the number of programs designed to help abusive or potentially abusive adults deal with their inner demons in healthier ways.

Both bits of good news suggest that progress is being made, but there’s still a long way to go before the phrase “and justice for all” loses its hollow ring.

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