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Hard-fought DADT repeal still has a long way to go
Washington, D.C.--President Barack Obama signed a the bill repealing ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ on December 22. Though the repeal is widely trumpeted as a landmark civil rights moment, gay servicemembers are being warned to stay in the closet, and there seems to be little plan on the part of the White House to do what is necessary to make it open gay service possible.
DADT remains in effect until the rest of the process is complete, then another 60 days pass, and there is no timeline to get it all done.
The bill’s passage through Congress four days earlier was dramatic. House and Senate Democratic leadership went to extraordinary measures to pass the measure on a Saturday in a rare “lame duck” session.
Using parliamentary moves around Senate Republicans who used a filibuster threat to block previous attempts to attach the measure to military spending bills, the repeal passed the House as a stand-alone bill on December 16. This forced the bill back to the Senate, where Democrats decided to take up the fight.
With Republicans taking control of the House and gaining influence in the Senate in the next session and the re-election politics of 2012 looming over Obama, conventional wisdom held that if DADT wasn’t repealed that afternoon, it would be years before it would be taken up again, if ever.
Public support for repeal of the 17 year old ban on gays serving openly has consistently polled above 75 percent since 2006, when the Army dismissed nine gay Arabic linguists during the height of the Iraq occupation. American servicemembers were being killed due to lack of linguists at the time.
In the subsequent years, those who made DADT happen as a 1993 compromise, including former president Bill Clinton, former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Colin Powell, and former Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Sam Nunn, began reversing their positions, and denouncing the policy.
The only support the ban continued to hold came from the professional anti-LGBT establishment, right wing fringe groups fronted by Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness. That group also opposes women in combat, co-ed basic training, and progressive military personnel policies of other countries allied with the United States which they see as “destructive” and “dangerous” to American security.
In the end, their opinion was given a voice by Arizona Republican John McCain, who was joined, after all the grandstanding, by only 30 other senators in the final vote.
Hours before the vote to repeal the ban, senators voted for cloture, or to end debate on the bill. That vote, seen as a test vote, passed 63 to 33, with six Republicans joining Democrats and independents. A vote of 60 is required for cloture.
Ohio’s senior senator, Republican George Voinovich who is retiring at the end of the year, was one of the six.
Ohio junior senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, was an advocate of repeal, and worked for years lobbying his colleagues on the issue.
Hours later, the vote on the actual repeal, which only needed 51, picked up two more Republican votes. The final score was 65 to 31 in favor of repeal.
The House vote three days earlier was 250 to 175.
Ohio’s House delegation split along party lines, with all Democrats voting for repeal of DADT and all Republicans voting to keep it.
Ohio representatives voting against repeal were incoming House Speaker John Boehner, Steve Austria, Jim Jordan, Steven LaTourette, Bob Latta, Pat Tibeiri, Jean Schmidt and Mike Turner.
Ohio representatives voting to repeal DADT were John Boccieri, Steve Driehaus, Marcia Fudge, Marcy Kaptur, Mary Jo Kilroy, Dennis Kucinich, Tim Ryan, Betty Sutton, Zack Space, and Charles Wilson.
Boccieri, Driehaus, Kilroy, Space and Wilson were all defeated by anti-LGBT Republicans in November.
The wave of Republican victories occurred partly because Obama supporters were disillusioned with the president’s lack of progressive action and perceived weakness, so he has seized on every possible opportunity to claim the repeal of DADT as his victory and a campaign promise kept.
However, repealing DADT is only half of what is needed for gay and lesbian servicemembers to be able to serve openly, and the president is less resolute in finishing the job than he was campaigning for DADT repeal.
The 1993 law commonly known as DADT barred gays and lesbians from open military service, replacing a World War I-era policy that banned them outright. The most salient piece of the compromise was that the military was supposed to stop asking servicemembers and recruits whether or not they are homosexual. Prior to 1993, all recruits, draftees and suspected members were, as a matter of policy, asked.
In exchange, gay servicemembers were expected to remain closeted--not tell anyone anything that may indicate their sexual orientation. The law also declared homosexuality “incompatible” with military service.
Prior to DADT, discharging homosexuals was handled totally through military procedures outlined in the Uniform Code of Military Justice and policy.
All that happened with Obama’s signature was the reverting back to that time. The Department of Defense is again totally in control of how it handles gay and lesbian servicemembers.
The other piece needed to ensure openly gay servicemembers could serve honestly, is a measure changing the Uniform Code of Military Justice to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
That change could be directed by an act of Congress or by an order of the president, similar to President Truman’s 1948 order desegregating the armed services.
The incoming Congress is not likely to pass such a law, and Obama is not showing any movement toward an order. Obama could have issued an order barring the military from discharging gay servicemembers on his first day in office. The president is not likely to issue even that less involved order, called a stop-loss, and he does not seem to have a sense of urgency of completing the task of making it possible for gays and lesbians to serve openly.
Obama administration spokespersons declined to go on the record for this report when they were asked, “Will the president be issuing executive orders protecting military service members from discrimination based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation?”
Instead, the White House is directing reporters to an interview the president gave to Advocate reporter Kerry Eleveld the morning he signed the repeal of DADT.
In the interview, Obama dodges the question about executive orders, and dodges another about a timeline for getting anything done.
“I think there are a whole range of implementation issues that are going to be worked through in the coming weeks, and so I don’t want to get too far ahead of the process,” Obama said.
“And when you think about what happened in terms of racial integration in the Army or in our military, when you look at women’s inclusion in our military, I think the history has been that there are bumps along the road; new issues arise that weren’t always anticipated--partly, by the way, because it wasn’t done as systematically as we’re going to--as I think we’re going to be able to carry out here--but to a remarkable degree, our military is able to inculcate a strong sense that everybody has got to be treated the same,” Obama continued. “And I have confidence that that will be true here as well.”
“So there’s going to be some way of having a nondiscrimination mandate somehow?” Eleveld pressed.
“I am going to look exactly at what the recommendations are, and we will be making decisions over the next series of weeks about what is necessary to implement not just the letter but the spirit of this repeal,” Obama answered.
“We will get this done in a timely fashion, and the chiefs [of staff] are confident that it will get done in a timely fashion,” Obama said, though he declined to specify what that meant other than to say it wouldn’t take years.
The other place where the process could get sidetracked is in the process of certifying that repeal of DADT can happen at all.
The law specifies that before the president, the secretary of defense and the chair of the joint chiefs of staff can certify that DADT can be repealed 60 days later, three conditions have to be met:
First is that the three have considered recommendations for integrating gays and lesbians into the armed services that are contained in the December 1 Pentagon report on the possibility of lifting the ban.
Second is the Department of Defense has prepared the necessary policies and regulations to change their practices in the presence of gays serving openly.
Finally, and perhaps most subjective and difficult, that the implementation of necessary policies be “consistent with the standards of military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention of the Armed Forces.”
If any of those conditions are not deemed to be met by anyone at the Pentagon, or if there is long debate about any of these things, DADT could stay in effect a very long time.
Obama is not publicly addressing that possibility at all.
The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, however, is.
SLDN, which has advocated repeal of DADT since it was instituted, and has defended many of the discharged servicemembers, set up a website called Still at Risk.
“Rapidly changing events regarding the legal status of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ may be confusing for service members and recruits,” SLDN warns.
“The bottom line is DADT is still in effect and it is not safe to come out.”
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