Fron The Progress Report
In his State of the Union address last week, President Obama signaled that he was going to make good this year on his promise to end the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) policy, which bans gay men and women from serving openly in the U.S. armed forces. "This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are," said Obama. "It's the right thing to do." In a Senate hearing tomorrow, the first in 17 years on the issue, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen "will unveil the Pentagon's initial plans for carrying out a repeal, which requires an act of Congress."Gates and Mullen are "not expected to offer a specific legislative proposal to repeal the law, but rather to detail some of the preliminary steps that need to be taken inside the military in advance of formulating a legislative plan." "A special investigation into how the ban can be repealed without hurting the morale or readiness of the troops was expected to be announced" at the hearing tomorrow, a process that could "take the better part of this year to complete." In the meantime, a senior Pentagon official tells CNN that Gates will discuss at the hearing options for more "humanely" implementing the current ban. Gay rights leaders told the New York Times that they expect "Gates to announce in the interim that the Defense Department will not take action to discharge service members whose sexual orientation is revealed by third parties or jilted partners, one of the most onerous aspects of the law."
THE PACE OF IMPLEMENTATION: Last year, Gates told Obama that "it was no longer a question of if the ban would be repealed, but when." Though tomorrow's hearing appears to be the start of the process, gay rights advocates are concerned that implementation will be slow-walked. "By signaling that integration is a complicated, fragile process and slow-rolling it over a number of years, you give obstructionists in the military the chance to stir up trouble in their units," Aaron Belkin, the director of the Palm Center, told the New York Times. There are questions that the Pentagon needs to answer in terms of how to implement a repeal -- such as how to deal with benefits for gay spouses and potential hate crimes. However, the experience of other countries' armed forces that changed their policies to allow openly gay men and women to serve can provide a helpful guide. As the Center for American Progress's LawrenceKorb, Sean Duggan, and Laura Conley noted in a report last year, "Six months after the British armed forces made the transition to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly, the Ministry of Defense conducted a follow-up report," which found that "recruitment was not affected, the policy gained 'widespread acceptance,' and no incidents of harassment of openly homosexual service members were observed."
THE COST OF INACTION: As the legislative and bureaucratic process of repealing the ban gets underway, the negative effects of the policy will continue. Since its enactment more than 16 years ago, DADT has resulted in the discharge of nearly 14,000 highly qualified men and women. The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network estimates that 644 people have been discharged under the law since President Obama took office. A study by the Williams Institute found that without the threat of DADT, "an estimated 4,000 lesbian, gay, and bisexual military personnel would have been retained each year since 1994." In September, anarticle in Joint Force Quarterly, a military journal reviewed before publication by the office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called DADT a "costly failure." Indeed, estimates for the total cost to the U.S. taxpayer for discharging 13,000 soldiersrange from $140 million to $535 million in 2009 dollars. "The law singles out a group of Americans for second-class treatment, forcing them to hide who they are and to live in fear of being found out and discharged," wrote the New York Times in an editorial last week. "The policy hurts the military by depriving it of the service of a large number of loyal and talented Americans." The majority of the American people agree that the policy is wrong. A May 2009 Gallup poll found that 69 percent of Americans favor allowing openly gay men and women to serve in the military.
RESISTANCE TO CHANGE: An editorial in the Washington Post today notes that "the 16-year-old policy is a creature of Congress. Thus, it is Congress that must permanently right this wrong." Rep. Patrick J. Murphy (D-PA), a military veteran, has gathered 187 sponsors for the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, which would end the ban. But on NBC News' Meet The Press yesterday, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) indicated that conservatives in Congress would oppose repeal legislation. "In the middle of two wars, and, and in the middle of this giant security threat, why would we want to get into this debate?" said Boehner. "Why do we want to get into a divisive debate that will do nothing more than distract the, the real debate that should occur here about helping get our economy going again." On ABC's This Week yesterday, Senator-elect Scott Brown (R-MA), who has supported the policy in the past, refused to take a position on Obama's call for repeal. "I'd like to hear from the generals in the field -- in the field -- the people that actually work with these soldiers to make sure that, you know, the social change is not going to disrupt our ability to finish the job and complete the wars," said Brown. Though Mullen has said that "if the law changes," the military will "comply," there is some vocal resistance in the top ranks. A spokesman for Gen. James T. Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps, told the Washington Times in October that "our Marines are currently engaged in two fights, and our focus should not be drawn away from those priorities." Conway's spokesman, Maj. David Nevers, told the Washington Post last week that "Conway's position had not changed." RetiredGeneral John Shalikashvili, who implemented the policy as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the early nineties, however, wrote to Sen.Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) last week, saying that "it is time to repeal" DADT "and allow our military leaders to create policy that holds our service members to a single standard of conduct and discipline."