If Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA), new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), was hoping that the nation's top military leaders would give him fresh ammunition in his fight to delay, defund or derail implementing repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT)... well, the chairman and the other members of the new majority on his committee must have been sorely disappointed by the testimony they heard last Thursday. The service chiefs testified that their services were moving smoothly toward repeal, with no significant problems.
But what last week's hearing -- and the military personnel subcommittee's hearing just a week earlier -- underscored is that the clear majority of the new majority on the HASC would like nothing more than to turn back the clock on repeal. Indeed, members like Allen West (R-FL), Austin Scott (R-GA), Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) and Steven Palazzo (R-MS), though misinformed about the law, seem determined nonetheless to advance the denial of full equality for all service members. And for all we know, that goal may well be shared by the majority in the House today.
Sadly, they're getting their talking points from organizations like the Heritage Foundation, which last week released a report, "A Clash of Integrities: Moral and Religious Liberty in the Armed Forces," written by longtime opponent of open service, Charles A. Donovan, who has recently reinvented himself as a military expert at the Heritage Foundation. In fact, Donovan has never served in the military and demonstrates no understanding of the most basic aspects of how our military works, how commands are structured, or even the chain of command. His specious arguments, hinged largely on freedom of speech and religion, were ably refuted by Brigadier General John Adams (USA ret.), a veteran of more than 30 years service. To view his rebuttal, go here.
All of this demonstrates that opponents of open service are circling the wagons, and we must acknowledge that repeal is under attack and must be defended. Yes, repeal was signed into law last December by the President, but until certification takes place and repeal is implemented, the existing law remains in place. As a result, investigations continue and service members remain in danger of being discharged. At Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), we maintain no less than 100 open cases.
Meanwhile, opponents of repeal are looking to make mischief at every turn. Already, three likely presidential candidates have called for repealing the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." They and other would-be presidents will take the stage in Greenville, SC, on May 5 for the first televised debate of the 2012 election cycle, and you can expect this issue to be addressed. Back in Congress, the House and Senate Armed Services Committees will begin marking up the 2012 Defense Authorization legislation, and this will offer yet another opportunity as opponents seek to derail, defund, or delay repeal.
For all these reasons and more, SLDN has called on the armed services to accelerate the timeline for training for "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal, so that certification may take place and repeal be implemented in the second quarter of this year. Only then, when open military service is proceeding smoothly, will opponents of repeal let up. But do not be mistaken; they are not going away. I fear it will be some time before repeal of DADT is truly out of harm's way. Just one election could give opponents of repeal a majority in the Senate and in the White House. We must remain vigilant -- and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network will remain on the frontlines -- to ensure that this discriminatory law is never placed back on our books and that backdoor attempts to undermine repeal are never successful.
We also know that just successfully enacting repeal does not finish the job. The job is not done until legally married service members receive the same benefits and family support as their straight married comrades. Fair and equal treatment under the law has not been accomplished as long as federal statutes prevent pay parity. Ultimately, our work is done only when lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender service members, willing to serve and fight and die for this country, are treated equally under the law. That day has not yet arrived.
This fact is further underscored by this week's announcement by the White House that First Lady Michelle Obama will launch a new initiative to support military families. Though repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law has not yet taken place, we welcome Mrs. Obama's -- and the President's -- support for ending this discriminatory law that has been rejected by the American people. The First Lady, President Obama, and the service chiefs all recognize that gay and lesbian service members are serving today, and that they have families who should be recognized. (To view the SLDN statement, go here.)
We look forward to that day, and we hope it will come sooner, rather than later. And until that day comes, we will keep fighting.
Aubrey Sarvis is an Army Veteran and Executive Director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.
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