Sens. Joe Lieberman and Carl Levin, and Rep. Patrick Murphy, the Iraq veteran. These are the folks who will deserve your applause when Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is eventually repealed. But President Barack Obama? You can skip over him in the handshake line.
Realizing that activists — led by Servicemembers United and the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, as well as, arguably, the grassroots efforts from GetEQUAL — had managed to push the DADT repeal front and center before lawmakers before the November mid-term elections, the White House this week invited everyone over to discuss how to move forward. Except the Obama administration already decided how things would proceed: with a compromise.
That compromise, which will be attached to the National Defense Authorization Act, includes three stunning concessions.
• The Pentagon will get to complete its 10-month repeal study. Though reasonable persons all branded this study as unnecessary and idiotic, the White House and Defense Department haven’t wavered in support for this foot-dragging measure. By allowing the study to finish before DADT is actually repealed, Obama and Defense Sec. Robert Gates save face — and lawmakers get to appear as having not crossed them. It also means the November elections will come and go, as the White House hoped, without DADT’s repeal actually taking place.
• There will be no non-discrimination policy added to military code. While DADT will be repealed by Congress, it will not require the Pentagon to institute a policy that bans discrimination against gays and lesbians. Do you realize what this means? That even though soldiers will no longer be forced, under law, to stay in the closet, they can still be fired, or refused hiring, for being gay. This is atrocious.
• It’s Sec. Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen who have to sign off on DADT’s end. While Congress and the president will repeal the law, they will insert no actual timeline. Rather, the law will only stop being enforced once military leadership declare it is time. The entire point of repealing DADT via Congress — and not executive order, or Pentagon mandate — was to legislatively erase a stain on America’s lawbooks and military record. Instead, this compromise will give the right to end discrimination to appointed military leaders, not your elected officials. Repeat: The option over whether to continue discrimination against gay and lesbian heroes by forcing them to remain in the closet to keep their jobs — to instate Americans’ civil rights — is in the hands of the armed forces. While Gates may sign off on the repeal right after the study finishes is a moot point; he should not have the power to decide the timing.
In effect, even if Congress can muster the votes — still a big if, when you take into account Sen. Scott Brown (now a firm no) and his ilk — to repeal, and the president signs the bill into law, the timeline to grant gay soldiers their rights remains a post-Christmas reality. If that. Nancy Pelosi said DADT would be a memory by Christmas. Wrong; it’ll still very much be at the forefront of our minds.
It is correct to say the White House’s involvement as a step forward. But it is just that: a step. And a small gesture, much like Obama has provided to gay Americans since taking office. But Barack Obama is getting in the way of, not helping along, DADT’s repeal. It is his decisions, and agreements with the Pentagon, that is delaying and quite possibly imperiling DADT’s chances of repeal. His involvement now will let him say, in some State of the Union speech, or his re-election bid, that he helped end discrimination in the military.
He will be lying.
We will get this done, friends. DADT will end. It is a matter of when, not if. But President Barack Obama will deserve no credit for it.