How Will the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Dinosaur Die?

“Don’t ask, don’t tell,” the 15-year-old law which prohibits anyone who “demonstrate(s) a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts” from serving in the U.S. armed forces is at death’s door. Colin Powell, who authored the policy as compromise between President Clinton and conservatives who wanted the ban on gays in the military to stand, DADT is responsible for discharging 12,600 service members in its lifetime, including 60 who are proficient Arab speakers, a skill the military remains in desperate need of. 75 percent of Americans support its repeal, and the incoming President has promised to do away with it.

With DADT on life-support how will it go? And who will pull the plug?

Scenario 1: The Obama Easy Way
In this scenario, the top brass drops their disproved arguments about unit cohesion and see the writing on the wall. The bill sails through Congress and Obama signs it into law. President-elect Barack Obama made a campaign promise to get rid of DADT, and gays and lesbians will hold him to it. His plan, as you might have guessed, is all about consensus. Obama intends to first discuss the issue with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and his own administration, then present his own legislation to Congress. In theory, it’s simple enough. But while a majority of civvies support an integrated military, 23 percent of enlisted men and women say they would consider dropping out of an integrated armed services.

Scenario 2: The Obama Hard Way
Here on planet Earth, there will be problems with the abolishment of DADT. The first is that Obama drags his feet on doing anything about the policy. It’s not as if he’s wanting for pressing issues to tackle. The Washington Times reported last month that Obama may not even broach the issue ’til next year, reporting:

“I think 2009 is about foundation building and reaching consensus,” said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. The group supports military personnel targeted under the ban.

Mr. Sarvis told The Washington Times that he has held “informal discussions” with the Obama transition team on how the new president should proceed on the potentially explosive issue.

Lawrence Korb, an analyst at the Center for American Progress and an adviser to the Obama campaign, said the new administration should set up a Pentagon committee to make recommendations to Congress on a host of manpower issues, including the gay ban.

“If it’s part of a larger package, it has a better chance of getting passed,” he said.”

Even if Obama manages to craft a bill that satisfies military executives, that doesn’t mean it will pass Congress. If the Pentagon does not clearly and loudly signal support for integration, Republicans and moderate Democrats are unlikely to vote to repeal DADT.

Scenario 3: Congress Acts On Its Own
Say Obama drags his feet and its not too late in the term that Congress is worried about re-election. It’s then that the Military Readiness Act could come in to its own. The Service Member’s Legal Defense Fund explains the bill, saying:

“In 2007, Rep. Martin Meehan (D-MA) and a bipartisan group of 109 original cosponsors reintroduced the Military Readiness Enhancement Act in the House of Representatives. Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA) is now the lead sponsor, and is joined by 144 bipartisan cosponsors and counting. SLDN is working with key allies to introduce parallel legislation in the U.S. Senate.

The Military Readiness Enhancement Act would repeal the current ban on military service by openly lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans, commonly referred to as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” It would replace the current law with new provisions prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in the Armed Forces. Current regulations regarding the personal conduct of military members would remain unchanged as long as they are written and enforced in a sexual orientation neutral manner. Persons previously discharged for being gay would be eligible to apply to rejoin the military. The Military Readiness Enhancement Act would not create a right to benefits for same-sex partners or spouses, because under current federal law such benefits would violate the federal Defense of Marriage Act.”

If the bill passed Congress and landed on Obama’s desk, he’d have little choice but to sign it, no matter what military commanders said.

Scenario 4: The Courts Strike It Down
Essentially, this is the least likely scenario. The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled or refused to hear cases related to the policy and there’s little reason or hope they would do so now.

Scenario 5: Nothing Happens
Promises and politicians are fast friends at election time, but once in office they often part ways. In this scenario, the Service Member’s Legal Defense Fund continues to build broad consensus, but Obama doesn’t act and Congress fails to move on any bill the would repeal DADT. Would gays and lesbians continue on their same course of quiet tolerance building, or would the Prop. 8 spirit erupt on Pennsylvania Ave?