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Aaron Belkin Headshot

Mr. President: Please Let DADT Die

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Last month, District Court Judge Virginia Phillips ruled that the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy barring openly gay troops from serving was unconstitutional. Today, she issued an injunction to the military worldwide, with one simple directive: The policy must end now. Since DADT "infringes the fundamental rights of United States servicemembers," all branches of the military must immediately halt all discharges, separations and investigations of service members under the policy. DADT is still on the books, but it is now unenforceable.

Opponents of this discriminatory policy, however, should not be popping corks. The Department of Justice -- which already sought unsuccessfully to limit the injunction's effect to the plaintiffs, the Log Cabin Republicans -- will almost certainly ask the Court to stay today's injunction and will appeal Judge Phillips' ruling. Then, as the case works its way through the courts, discharges of qualified men and women who serve our country will continue for years to come.

This does not have to happen. Legal experts have concurred: President Obama can permanently end "don't ask, don't tell" today, simply by ordering the DOJ not to appeal the Log Cabin ruling. This is now the White House's ideal option for ending "don't ask, don't tell," for no shortage of reasons.

First, DADT is harmful to our military. Leading DADT expert Nathaniel Frank looked at the history of the policy, and found the disturbing facts: Far from improving unit cohesion, performance, and morale, DADT undermines it by encouraging gay and lesbian service members to be dishonest. It has harmed recruitment by making the military a discriminatory, anti-gay institution in the eyes of our young people. And it has cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. Perhaps most crucially, it has led to the discharges of hundreds of specialists serving in the very fields -- linguistics, intelligence, and medical services -- in which recruitment is sorely lacking.

Ending DADT now is not only good for the military; for the White House, it is also good politics. Nearly every article about the upcoming election has made note of the vast "enthusiasm gap" that has Republicans far more excited to vote than Democrats. Much of this gap can be traced to the failure to accomplish key Democratic priorities. If Obama's Department of Justice declines to appeal the Log Cabin ruling, he will not just fulfill a promise he has repeatedly made from the campaign trail to this year's State of the Union address -- he will awaken his base and their faith in his leadership.

Those who favor appealing the Log Cabin case will make several predictable arguments. They will argue, as the White House has done thus far, that the task of repealing "don't ask, don't tell" should be left in the hands of Congress. But the Senate shirked that responsibility in September when it failed to pass the bill that would have allowed for the end of "don't ask, don't tell" next year. That bill is unlikely to pass during the lame-duck session, at least not with the repeal language intact, and with Republicans certain to make major gains in Congress in the upcoming election, legislative repeal could be quite difficult during the next congressional term.

In ruling so decisively against "don't ask, don't tell," Judge Phillips has presented President Obama with a stark choice. He can appeal the ruling, excuse this decision with the fiction that Congress is poised to act on repeal, and guarantee that these unjust and discriminatory discharges will continue for years to come. Or he can strengthen our military by allowing thousands of gay and lesbian service members to openly serve our country.

Mr. President: For the good of our military and our country, choose the latter. The time has come to kill "don't ask, don't tell," and Judge Phillips has just handed you the axe.