It's Chow Time at the White House, Brother

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Aubrey Sarvis Former Executive Director, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network

The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network is joining Sunday's National Equality March in Washington because the patience of the LGBT community is running thin with what appears to be President Obama's inaction on issues of great importance to us.

What gays and lesbians are looking for--and will be marching for on Sunday--is nothing special, and that is exactly the point. It's what virtually every other American already has: equal treatment under the law, not just in the military but in every area of life to which such prejudicial laws as "don't ask, don't tell" and the Defense of Marriage Act extend.

"Justice delayed, is justice denied," Queen Victoria's Prime Minister William Gladstone famously said. We've been waiting for justice for a very long time and it cannot be delayed much longer. You can feel the momentum building, and as the momentum builds, the dominoes fall. Sunday's National Equality March is the sound of another domino falling.

The President's National Security Advisor General James Jones, his Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen have all played variations on those old songs: "when the time is right" and "President Obama has a full plate right now." But those arguments are not playing any more. You know the full-plate argument is finished when Jon Stewart says on national television, "It's chow time, brother. That's how you get things off your plate."

No one would deny that the president's plate is full to overflowing, and the enormous and urgent problems he faces would overwhelm most people: intractable wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and dissension within the Executive Branch (not to mention Congress) on how to deal with them; a fractious political debate going on over health care, the end result of which will affect the life of every one of us to a singular degree; the worst recession since the 1930s. But grave as these problems are, they cannot overwhelm the president. That's why we elected him, not to be overcome by the problems but to overcome the problems.

As Jon Stewart said on his Daily Show on Comedy Central, "Remember, you're the president of America. When your plate gets too full, you get up and get another plate."

You know the days of DADT are numbered when Elaine Donnelly's endlessly repeated arguments against gays in the military (all coming down to disrupting "unit cohesion") are demolished not only on Anderson Cooper's "360" but in the latest issue of the Pentagon's own flagship publication, Joint Force Quarterly. Ms. Donnelly is reduced to saying of Air Force Colonel Om Prakash's prize-winning essay, "It won a contest, that's all." Oh.

The two epigraphs to that essay nicely summarize Ms. Donnelly's arguments against open service. Here is a U.S. Senator: "There is no more intimate relationship . . . they eat and sleep together. They use the same facilities day after day. They are compelled to stay together in the closest association." And here is an Army general officer on the same subject. "Experiments within the Army in the solution of social problems are fraught with danger to efficiency, discipline, and morale."

The only problem with these arguments is that they were made by Senator Richard Russell (D-Ga.) and General Omar Bradley in opposition to President Truman's 1948 Executive Order to integrate the races in the military. That doesn't stop Ms. Donnelly, however, any more than did Colonel Prakosh's essay in the flagship journal of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

You know the days of DADT are numbered when the president's inaction on opening up the military (among other things) makes it to NBC's "Saturday Night Live" and is the frequent object of ridicule on Rachel Maddow's show. Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), veteran of Iraq and lead sponsor of H.R. 1283, which would repeal DADT, held a "Special Order Hour" in the House Tuesday night to highlight the law's impact on national security and to push for additional co-sponsors. (Check out his website, "Let Them Serve.") More dominoes down.

After reading Colonel Prakash's essay in JFQ, I wrote here last week that a fresh breeze was blowing through the Pentagon. That may be and let us hope that it is so, but the breeze seems to have barely ruffled a leaf on the White House lawn. It does not seem to have stirred a paper on the desk of General Jones. The President's National Security Advisor told John King on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday that the president would take up DADT "at the right time. . . . I don't think it's going to be--it's not years, but I think it will be teed up appropriately." I think we've heard that before--but "not years"? Not a good sign. Not at all. (Perhaps President Obama will offer a clarification Saturday evening.)

I'm sure that General Jones' offhand remark provided no comfort to Lieutenant Colonel Victor Fehrenbach, a much medaled Iraq war hero and an SLDN active-duty client set to be discharged under DADT. "The president told me in June, 'We'll get this done,'" Fehrenbach said. When? In General Jones' time or in the time zone the rest of us live in?

President Obama will be speaking at the Human Rights Campaign's annual fund-raising dinner in Washington Saturday night. That seems a good time for the president to tell Colonel Fehrenbach what he's waiting to hear, "specifically when the president plans on working with Congress to reverse the law."

More than 65,000 LGBT patriots will be listening to what Obama has to say about repealing "don't ask, don't tell." I said in an SLDN statement released today, "the clock is ticking. A clear time line from this White House and Congress is urgently needed. On Saturday evening we hope the President will call on Congress to partner with him on repeal and send him the Military Readiness Enhancement Act that he can sign into law next year."

David Wochner, who serves on the Victory Fund's Campaign Board, which carries a lot of weight in the LGBT community and in Congress, told Politico that he sees the president's "appearance at the dinner as a show of good faith. I'm willing to go on that."

I'm willing to go on that, too, for the time being. But my "time being" does not feel at all the same as General Jones' "it's not years."

It's a lot closer to Jon Stewart's, "It's chow time, brother."