President Obama has said he would sign legislation overturning the ban on gays in the military. Here's a roadmap to make sure that happens in 2010.
First, all the President's men (and women) must get on the same page as their boss. Obama has made his position unequivocally clear: "I will end 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'" We're not sure this message has filtered down through the executive branch.
Some senior military leaders, including the Secretaries of the Navy and Air Force, National Security Council Advisor Gen. James Jones, and others have been tepid, tentative, or tangled in their public statements regarding repeal. The same goes for the Justice Department. Earlier this year, the judge in the Log Cabin Republicans vs. United States of America, the case challenging the constitutionality of DADT, ruled that the case could proceed with a trial set for next June. (This is good news. Log Cabin is the only pending case that seeks to repeal this bad law.) But Justice lawyers inexplicably made a filing that would delay the trial for years. We can't figure out where they're coming from.
Second, after health care reform, the White House will need to put even more skin in the game. "I will end 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'" will have little meaning, particularly for those being discharged or already fired for being gay - like Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach, the F-15E aviator who was awarded nine Air Medals for his service in Iraq and Afghanistan, or Joseph Rocha, the seaman who was hogtied in a feces-filled dog kennel - unless the President and his entire team ensure that repeal language is included in his 2011 defense budget.
Third, Congress needs to take bold but smart action. There are only a few months in 2010 to get repeal done. Congressional leaders, who are more committed than ever to seeing this law go, will need to show by their actions they are making repeal a top priority and that their committee chairmen are building the record and counting the votes.
Much has happened this year to pave the way for a 2010 repeal. For the first time, a majority of conservatives support gay and lesbian troops serving openly. And a new study by researchers from the RAND Corporation and the University of Florida and commissioned by the Palm Center shows 61 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are either in favor of getting rid of the law or are neutral on the matter.
A President took office who is fully committed to getting this done (which we've never had). Members of Congress are beginning to realize that DADT repeal should be, appropriately, included in next year's defense budget bill.
Rep. Patrick Murphy, a Blue Dog Democrat and Iraq war veteran from Pennsylvania, has been quarterbacking a legislative proposal to overturn the law that 183 lawmakers have now signed onto. Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, continues to voice support for repeal and has put on the table, as recently as this past weekend, repeal language being in the next defense budget.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) likes to say the law is "working successfully," but reports from social scientists, professional pollsters, and those on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan show DADT is not working. Nearly a quarter of service members know a member of their unit is gay. That doesn't sound like it's working. And 18- to 32-year old troops on the ground, who are living reality, know DADT is not working. Just talk to them.
As Col. Om Prakash pointed out recently in Joint Force Quarterly, research studies commissioned by the Department of Defense, as far back as 1947, come to the same incontrovertible conclusion: There is no disruption or adverse impact on unit cohesion or readiness if gay men and women serve openly.
Repealing DADT will allow all qualified service members to serve. Why, then, are we not allowing whoever is fit, qualified, and willing to hunt down al Qaeda the chance to do so?
This article has been updated. We originally wrote, "A new survey by the RAND Corp. shows 61 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are either in favor of getting rid of the law or are neutral on the matter." We regret the error.
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