Congressional negotiators and White House officials are moving forward with plans to add the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell to the upcoming defense authorization bill, Democratic sources tell the Huffington Post.
In Congress, members are being whipped to ensure that the votes will be there for passage, should the legislation be placed in the bill. At this juncture, aides say, the prospects look good. Meanwhile, a source close to the White House says the president has instructed the Defense Department that he believes the repeal of DADT should be placed in the authorization bill.
However, disagreements could emerge when it comes to crafting the actual legislative language, over which Defense Secretary Robert Gates will wield his influence. And at this juncture, few of the offices working on the issue said they were willing to take passage as a fait accompli.
"People have said publicly and privately that this is a good place for repeal to be placed," said one Democratic aide on the Hill. "It would be reasonable to expect that repeal might be in this year's defense authorization... But we aren't assuming anything yet."
If repeal of DADT is added to the defense authorization bill, critics of the program will view it as a long-overdue move. The initial law, in which members of the military weren't asked about their sexuality nor allowed to serve openly, was passed as part of the defense authorization for FY1994. Since then, a delicate balance -- which no particular side of the debate appreciated -- has been the law of the land. As a result, thousands of military personnel have hidden their sexuality from their superiors and even more have been dismissed for making their sexuality public.
During the 2008 campaign, then Senator Obama made repeal of the law a major component of his platform on LBGT issues. A massive financial crisis and already front-loaded legislative schedule pushed DADT repeal to the back burner, although the administration promised that action would eventually be taken.
Frustration mounted. And on Tuesday, the Servicemember Legal Defense Network -- a group dedicated to repealing DADT -- releasede an open letter to Obama (in the form of an advertisement in the newspaper Roll Call) urging repeal to be placed in the defense budget:
"[I]f you do not include repeal in your defense budget, it will be tough to win repeal this year. You have yet to say to Congress, Let's finally end this embarrassing and archaic law and here's how we do it.
The time is now. Not next year or the second term. To delay another year is to stand aside and okay the daily firing of service members merely because they are gay. Patriotic gays and lesbians are fighting and dying for our country in two wars, just like their straight comrades-in-arms."
In an interview with the Huffington Post, SLDN's Executive Director, Aubrey Sarvis, pledged that the ad was just the first salvo in a longer, broader, campaign to push the administration's hand. "A number of other organizations feel the same way and I will anticipate that you will be seeing more of a united and direct message," he said.
As for the push to place repeal of DADT into the defense authorization bill, Aubrey and others are open about their legislative strategizing. "Defense authorization is one of the few must-pass bills in each session and each Congress," he said. "This is a bill that we know is going to pass to provide for our nation's defense."
Acknowledged the Democratic Hill staffer: "It makes it a lot harder for others to oppose." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Cali.) along with Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass) -- who is openly gay -- have also expressed support for putting repeal of DADT in the defense budget.
Currently, there is no precise calendar to consider the defense authorization bill. But the administration is expected to put forward its recommendations in February with the House of Representatives considering the bill in late April or May. If the White House does not include repeal as part of its recommendations that does not preclude the lawmakers from introducing it in committee or at other stages in the process, the Hill aide said.