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Aaron Belkin Headshot

It's Discrimination, Stupid

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This week, the Senate will finally vote on the defense spending bill containing language that paves the way for the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" next year. As the votes are counted, we should keep in mind that this vote ultimately comes down to one question only: should the military discriminate against gay and lesbian troops or not.

That may be obvious to some. But many of those who support filibustering the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the bill containing the repeal measure, have sought to obfuscate this fundamental reality by pretending that the NDAA debate is a procedural one -- rooted in the motions and measures of the Senate, and far removed from our service academies and battlefields where gay and lesbian cadets and service members struggle daily to navigate the minefield that "don't ask, don't tell" has made of their careers.

Just look at the rhetoric used by leading filibuster proponent Sen. John McCain. Explaining his opposition to the NDAA, McCain criticized "the truncated process and partisan manner in which the Majority is forcing through a de facto repeal of a long-standing policy."

Even supposed GOP moderates like Sen. Susan Collins -- who, unlike McCain, previously voted for the repeal measure -- are echoing these disingenuous words. In explaining her failure to take a stand for the NDAA, her spokesman hid behind the implication that the Democrats were denying a "full and open debate" by limiting amendments on the bill.

Both McCain and Collins would have us believe that a vote to filibuster the NDAA is about procedural issues -- a mere act of protest against strong-arm tactics supposedly used by the Democratic majority in bringing the bill to the floor. Nothing could be further from the truth.

As the two senators know full well, the NDAA is the sole chance Congress will have to enable the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" prior to the November elections, and likely before the 113th Congress begins in January of 2013. This means that any vote to filibuster the NDAA is a vote to continue "don't ask, don't tell" for years to come. And a vote to continue "don't ask, don't tell" is a vote to continue discrimination against the thousands of gay and lesbian service members who serve our country.

This is not the time to hide behind abstract matters of Congressional procedure. This vote is, quite simply, a vote on whether the military will end an unjust and discriminatory policy that has already ended the careers of thousands of service members and harmed our military's readiness. A vote to filibuster the NDAA will send a clear message to gay and lesbians in the military: that their contributions are not wanted, and that their service, simply because of their sexual orientation, is somehow harming our military. A vote for the NDAA, on the other hand, would be a ringing endorsement of the view that the military should end "don't ask, don't tell" and simply treat gays and lesbians in the same manner as all other service members.

Our senators ought not to hide their convictions regarding the discrimination of "don't ask, don't tell." But regardless of what rationales they might currently hide behind, there is no question: Tuesday's vote, for or against discrimination, will make clear for all exactly what those convictions are

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