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Aaron Belkin Headshot

Would Romney Reinstate DADT?

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Two disturbing pieces of information emerged recently which, when considered together, suggest that Governor Mitt Romney may have plans to try to undo the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) if elected President, but that he doesn't want to say so during the campaign.

First, Lila Shapiro, a reporter at Huffington Post, told me this week that she has approached the Romney campaign "on multiple occasions" to ask questions about gay rights issues, and that the campaign has not answered a single question. Once, the campaign said in response to her query that it would get back to her, but it did not do so. It seems pretty clear that the campaign doesn't want to talk about gay rights issues, and hopes that reporters won't press too hard.

Second, the GOP recently changed its platform in a way that seems benign, but which may be far from innocuous. In the previous version of its platform, the GOP said that homosexuality was incompatible with military service. In the new version, the GOP "reject[s] the use of the military as a platform for social experimentation" and says that the Republicans "will conduct an objective review of the current administration's management of military personnel and will correct any problems with appropriate administrative or legal action." At first glance, that seems like a change for the better, and some gay rights groups are hailing the shift as a sign of moderation .

But I'm not so sure.

When Congress authorized DADT repeal in 2010, there were not enough votes to pass a bill that would force the Pentagon to treat gay and lesbian troops equally. As a result, Congress passed compromise legislation that repealed DADT but which, rather than requiring the military to adopt a nondiscrimination policy, told the Pentagon to write its own rules. As a result, policy regarding gay and lesbian troops is now spelled out in Defense Department regulations, not Congressional statute. And this means that a future administration could reinstate discrimination by re-writing the rules.

I supported the compromise because there were not enough votes in Congress to pass a stronger version of the repeal bill, and I believed that if Congress didn't do something while Democrats still controlled both houses, DADT could remain law for a long time. In addition, I believed that even if a future President had legal authority to undo repeal, it would be politically difficult to do so because roughly 70 percent of the public, including a majority of Republicans, believed that gay and lesbian troops should be allowed to serve openly. Finally, I believed that once DADT was repealed, the military itself would resist revisiting the policy.

All that said, it is disheartening to learn that the GOP now says that the military should not be used for social experimentation, because that has always been code for an endorsement of discrimination. And it is equally troubling that the GOP intends to look at military personnel policy and use administrative means to address "problems," because that could very well be code for a plan to bring back discrimination.

It may also be instructive to remember that during the presidential primaries, Governor Romney indicated that he supported DADT, and that after former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that the ban should be lifted, Romney countered that, "it should have been kept in place."

If it is not true that the GOP plans to repeal the repeal, and given that Governor Romney is trying to appeal to moderate swing voters at this point in the campaign, there should be no reason for him to duck questions about DADT. In light of all this, I have three questions for him: (1) Do you believe the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff when he says that DADT repeal is proceeding smoothly? (2) Do you plan to consider repealing or modifying DADT repeal? (3) If objective research confirms that repeal has not harmed the armed forces, would you accept the results of that research?

I hope reporters are not lulled into complacency on this issue.