Thursday, January 28, 2010


It is hard to believe it was 18 years ago that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) was first suggested by then presidential candidate Bill Clinton. It was promoted as a way to overturn the ban on gay Americans serving in the armed forces. In truth, it was a continuation of our society’s unspoken declaration that homosexuality must be a dirty little secret. The very idea that a homosexual person must hide his or her identity in order to fight on the front lines or fly life-threatening war time missions is absurd. Not unlike now, Congress in 1992 was populated mostly by older white guys all in matching suits who generally purport to be heterosexual. The law of averages tells us there are most likely several gay members of Congress, but very few people run for office waving a rainbow flag.

Still, DADT was passed and has been in place ever since. Since 1993, there have been five legal challenges to the law, but all five were unsuccessful in Federal court. Still, it is Congress that has the power to kill DADT and allow gay people to serve openly in the military. About a year and a half ago, a Washington Post/ABC News poll revealed that fully 75% of American citizens favor the repeal of DADT. If Congress works for us, it would appear we have spoken and the law is outdated and discriminatory. And get this: in the poll, 64% of Republicans favored overturning the law, along with the 80% of Democrats. That is a very strong majority.

So, why is DADT still in place? First, many elected officials do not want to touch anything that remotely regards gay rights. Although our culture has come a long way in the last 20 years, Senators and House members are always focusing on re-election, and all things gay tend to be viewed as hot button issues that could be overly divisive. You may consider that avoidance short-sighted and not fully representative of your views/needs as a citizen, but politics are politics. Second, although more than 100 retired generals and military officials have supported the ban on DADT, current military powerhouses have been reluctant to commit to overturning the law.

Even those who support the ban have not taken aggressive action. President Obama devoted exactly two sentences to overturning DADT in his recent State of the Union speech, and failed to outline a specific plan or timetable. Some months ago at the annual Human Rights Campaign dinner in Washington, D.C. he stated that the ban would be repealed, but offered no plan to do so. Meanwhile, Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff finally came out in support of repealing DADT this month. Still, people in high places object. Senator Ike Skelton (D-MO), who was in on creating DADT in 1993, said this in an interview on C-SPAN: "I am personally not for changing the law.” His comments matter because he is the leading House Democrat on military policy.

Having lived long enough to see how these things go, I know that ultimately DADT will be obsolete and the law will be repealed. I don’t know when, but I feel confident it will happen. Social change that relies on governmental intervention comes slowly in our country. As recently as 1968, a law was finally passed that allowed black Americans and white Americans to get married. Still, every day that passes does so at the detriment of gay military personnel. Reportedly, the number of active duty military personnel discharged for violating the DADT policy is approximately 13,000. In the one year since Obama took office, 600 people have been discharged. Some military personnel are under investigation or awaiting a final decision on their cases. Watch:

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The only documented step toward ending the ban is The Military Readiness Enhancement Act (HR 1283), which would repeal the ban and allow gays and lesbians to serve openly. It was introduced in March, 2009 and now sits in committee. It could linger there for a very long time, but it is at least a tangible step toward justice.
Meanwhile, after Obama’s SOTU speech, here is what none other than Senator John McCain had to say:

“In his State of the Union address, President Obama asked Congress to repeal the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy. I am immensely proud of, and thankful for, every American who wears the uniform of our country, especially at a time of war, and I believe it would be a mistake to repeal the policy. This successful policy has been in effect for over 15 years, and it is well understood and predominantly supported by our military at all levels. We have the best trained, best equipped, and most professional force in the history of our country, and the men and women in uniform are performing heroically in two wars. At a time when our armed forces are fighting and sacrificing on the battlefield, now is not the time to abandon the policy.”

How is this any different from the days when black citizens were not allowed to drink from the same water fountains as white citizens? How is this different from Asian or Hispanic citizens who were forced to work in sweatshops earlier in the 20th century? What distinguishes this discriminatory law from the one that outlawed women from voting until 1919? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. DADT was a mistake when it was enacted, simply because it categorized gay citizens as somehow less than straight citizens solely because of their sexuality. Did someone forget to tell the U.S. government that sexuality does not define a person? Shame on the Clinton administration for launching something that so blatantly diminishes one entire segment of the population. Shame on his successor for ignoring the issue for eight years, and shame on Barack Obama for continuing to dangle a carrot in front of the gay community, but failing to commit to serious action to end the discrimination.

1 comment:

Joan Eisenstodt said...

This is nuts, Paul -- then too you know that. "Not the time" says Gen. Mullen? When IS the time to repeal this absurd law? We NEED people in the military! We kicked out qualified people and many w/ translation skills needed. I don't get it. (Shaking my head in disbelief.) What will it take? Can't Obama do an Excecutive Order on this one?