By Brent Koenigsman
During October, U.S. Judge Virginia Phillips ruled the military policy “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” unconstitutional. Unless repealed by the Justice Department within the next 60 days her ruling will prevent the discharge of gays from the military. However, last month the effort to repeal the 17 year-old “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was a failure in the U.S. Senate.
The policy, which has been in effect for 17 years, prohibits the military from asking a prospective soldier’s sexual orientation and also calls for the dismissal of any openly gay service member.
Passed under Bill Clinton’s administration, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was a step forward from former President Truman’s policy of an all out ban of homosexuals from the military.
It has however been viewed as highly discriminatory and the Service Members Legal Defense Network (a watchdog organization dedicated to ending discrimination and harassment towards homosexual service members) reports that there have been over 14,00 discharges because of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” since 1994.
There has been a growing feeling of dissatisfaction with the policy and support to repeal has been growing. President Barack Obama promised a crowd of thousands of gays and lesbians at a fundraising dinner, saying he would “end ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ That’s my commitment to you.”
Addressing congress Admiral Michael Mullen said that to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is “the right thing to do.” Even former Vice President Dick Cheney said in an ABC interview, “It’s time to reconsider the policy.”
A poll done by Zogby International in 2006 revealed that 73% of military service members were comfortable around gays and lesbians.
The Washington Post reported in 2010 that 75% of Americans supported gays and lesbians openly serving in the military.
With support from the government, American public and military itself, the repeal may have seemed imminent.
But, once again, problem solving took a backseat to politics and the amendment did not get the 60 votes needed in the senate to pass it.
Senator John McCain decried the move to repeal calling it “a cynical ploy to try to galvanize and energize their (democrats) base.”
In the end all 40 Senate Republicans voted no along with both Arkansas Democratic Senators. This divide revealed how much of a party issue this debate really is.
The vote to repeal was also poorly timed in that it was before a Pentagon survey, meant to show the effect lifting the ban would have, which will not be completed until December.
Ultimately political competition and poor organization resulted in the non-repeal. After Judge Phillips’s worldwide ruling against it there is still a high chance of repeal and many critics are already fighting back.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the Washington Post that the abrupt change would have “enormous consequences,” and argued the decision should be made by Congress, not the courts.
For now, even with Judge Phillips’s ruling, it looks as if opponents of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” including those currently serving, will have to continue to wait before they’re allowed to live and work openly in the military community.