Beginning of an End to Don’t Ask Don’t Tell
The Senate met this week to seriously address repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The policy, which has been in place for 17 years, may have to wait another one.
For 17 years, America has had the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) policy in place and now it may finally be coming to an end. In President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address he clearly stated his intention to let gays and lesbians serve in the military without being asked to hide their sexual orientation.
To begin the process, the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing this week with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. After a long morning discussing the ins and outs of the defense budget, the room quickly filled at noon to watch the committee discuss the DADT policy.
Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) supports the removal of the policy in favor of allowing any person to serve in the military regardless of sexual orientation arguing that it would improve the military’s capacity in many ways. He used examples of gay troops in the Middle East whose services were vital and fluent speakers of Farsi and Arabic who were forced to leave after their sexual orientation became evident.
Since the policy was enacted in 1993, over 13,000 men and women have been discharged because of the law and, as most of the people with microphones in the hearing pointed out, we are in the middle of two wars. Levin noted that 59 percent of Americans support the rights of gay and lesbian soldiers to serve openly in the military. He also made clear that the arguments for implementing the policy in 1993 were as unconvincing then as they are now: that gay military members might be blackmailed by opposing forces to act as spies, that gays who choose to serve have some animosity toward their country due to oppression, or that gay men and women just couldn’t do the jobsounded as far-fetched and outdated as they do now.
Ranking committee member Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) opposed Levin's statement, saying the policy “was not ideal, but is effective.” McCain stressed DADT's nearly two-decade "success," and waved around a list of over 1,000 former general and flag officers who oppose the repeal. McCain weighed in on the conditions of military life; the “forced intimacy and no privacy” that distinguishes it from civilian life. Taking away the secrecy of sexual orientation, he implied, would ruin “good order and unit cohesion” within a company, an argument often presented by DADT opponents. McCain and other DADT opponents present argued that repealing the policy would disrupt unity and effectiveness, likely dooming us in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates noted that in the 17 years since the policy has been enacted, America has experienced a significant change in attitude toward homosexuality in both civilian life and in the military. If the policy is rescinded, Gates said, the military will do its best to account for those whose attitudes are still behind the time, making sure to “minimize any disruption and polarization, especially on the front lines,” Gates said.
Gates pledged to make this the focus of the next year of planning. There are military rules, as well as family benefits, that will need to be adjusted, and Gates stressed that though a year is a long time to wait for change, he felt that the Pentagon must get the repeal of DADT absolutely right. With soldiers involved in such heavy operations in the Middle East, they couldn’t afford to miss a single small detail, he said.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen was even more careful with his statements at the Senate hearing than Gates was, but he was able to voice his support for nixing the policy. Obeying executive and legislative decisions from the president and Congress on the matter were top priority, Mullen said. McCain complained that Mullen was using the Senate hearing to figure out how to repeal the policy rather than if they should repeal it. Mullen safely described that his strategy was going to be “balance and thoughtfulness.”
A possible halfway step to repealing the policy is one that would refrain from dismissing soldiers outed by a third party for a 45 day period while the Department of Defense began its investigation into ending the DADT policy. Levin also proposed a moratorium on discharges for a full year while Congress debated the repeal decision.
Since the Senate hearing, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, a figure important in implementing the policy, came out with a public statement in support of repealing DADT. Other countries allow LGBT soldiers in their militaries to serve openly.
While those like Sen. Jeff Sessions R-Ala.) broke down the number of discharges of gay soldiers (13,000 over 10 years roughly equaling 0.1 percent of the force by his math), Mullen quickly expressed, “A fundamental principle with me is that everybody counts.” It’s difficult to understand the opposition to repealing DADT when there is a strong contingent of the population of the United States that includes the President who believe this deserves immediate attention.
A year is certainly longer than progressives want to wait for something that never should have been implemented in the first place, but hopefully Gates will agree to Levin’s proposal to impose a moratorium on discharges until the time that the policy is removed. The coming weeks will reveal the next direction that the Senate committee will take, hopefully resulting in a swift and efficient repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
Christian Pittman is an advocacy intern for Campus Progress and a senior at Appalachian State University.