Thank You Congress

07/23/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Aaron Belkin Author, How We Won: Progressive Lessons from the Repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

Finally, Washington is starting to wake up from its 15-year slumber concerning gays in the military. Today, 77 members of Congress sent a letter to the White House urging President Obama to take the lead on "don't ask, don't tell" by issuing an immediate moratorium on further gay discharges. Following the moratorium, Congress would then have time to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" law by legislation on its own schedule.

The major gay groups, including the Human Rights Campaign and the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, have called for an immediate presidential suspension of the gay ban, which falls under the president's "stop-loss" authority that governs all military separations. Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili has suggested that it is a viable option. The New York Times has also called on the President to consider issuing one. Today's demand by so many members of Congress lends more weight to the chorus.

A White House order would help a lot of people, including Dan Choi. He recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq, but in just a few weeks, the Army is going to fire him for being gay. In his case, there simply isn't time to wait the months or, more likely, years, that Congress may require to take up the issue. Only an immediate moratorium on "don't ask, don't tell" can keep him in the Army. Only President Obama can do that. That's what 77 members of Congress have recognized.

But this is about something far larger than one service member. It's about the role in protecting national security of tens of thousands of proud, loyal gay and lesbian troops. Like Dan, thousands of other gays and lesbians have donned the United States uniform, put their lives on the line, and participated in our nation's overseas missions. Hundreds of those individuals had skills like Arabic and other language capabilities or other badly-needed specialty skills, that literally saved lives in Iraq. Like Dan, they would like to be able to keep doing their jobs. The military needs them all. And they want to serve.

The problem is that even though three quarters of the American public support the right to serve honestly, there is a stalemate in Congress. A small alliance of Republicans and conservative Democrats stands in the way of Congress doing anything soon about "don't ask, don't tell." That's why today's call for an immediate presidential moratorium is so important. It would cut through the gridlock in Congress.

Dan Choi is ready to go back to Iraq if the White House allows them to do so. So are countless of his comrades who have been needlessly stripped of their ability to serve their country in uniform.