The Mantra to End DADT: Yes We Can!

02/13/2009 04:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Aubrey Sarvis Former Executive Director, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network

"Yes We Can" -- to borrow the mantra that resonated with such happy results for Barack Obama's campaign for the office he is about to assume. I'm talking about repeal in the new Congress of the odious "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law that prevents openly gay men and women from serving in the military.

We can do it, and we will. If the President-elect's word is not enough -- and I believe it is -- and if the words in the Party Platform are not enough -- and I believe they are -- we now have the word from the incoming White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs. One Thaddeus in Lansing, Michigan, asked Friday on round two of "Open for Questions" on the transition's web site,, if the new Administration was going to get rid of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.

Gibbs responded, "Thaddeus, you don't hear a politician giving a one-word answer much, but it's yes." Could anything be more clear, more unequivocal, and less ambiguous than that? I don't think so. But to engage our allies and build maximum support for repeal, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network is holding a "Freedom to Serve" rally at noon on the Capitol grounds March 13.

We know the military won't wobble. The President leads and the military follows. Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, made that point as strongly as it could be made on the CBS program 60 Minutes Sunday. "When President-elect Obama gets in and he says, 'Here's the decision,' the United States military, led by me, is gonna march off and execute that decision."

"So, if the commander in chief says 'Do it,' you do it?" CBS News correspondent David Martin asked him.

"Absolutely," Mullen replied.

If there's any wobbling on the DADT issue, it's not coming so much from the Administration-in-waiting, although there may be a few over there who would like to delay (or even brush the whole matter under the rug), but from some in the LGBT community who are afraid of pressing too hard on the issue, of moving too fast. They want to cut Mr. Obama a little slack. More than a little, actually. You know the drill. First, we've got this national economic crisis that started out small and has since gone global, with more discouraging data coming out every day, it seems. Then there's Iraq. We've got to get out of there. The summer of 2010 is the goal. And there's the matter of affordable, accessible health care for all Americans, the third item on his agenda and definitely not an easy slide to home plate.

There is no question that our next president is facing a host of truly awful problems that no previous new president has ever had to face. All of us need to recognize the reality of those urgent priorities, but that doesn't mean that any of us should slack up on the call to repeal DADT. Cut the Administration some slack, yes -- but not too much. As I told Peter Baker in the New York Times on Saturday, "I'm not talking about a first-100-days initiative. I am suggesting this is very doable in 2009."

Repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and passing the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, that's a fairly direct and straightforward mission, after all. Getting rid of this noxious, discriminatory, embarrassing law will be a lot easier than revitalizing the economy, ending a war, and getting national health care through Congress.

The indomitable Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), one of the busiest men in the Senate, is leading the way on a bill for repeal that he will introduce shortly. Sen. Kennedy's bill will be similar to House bill 1246, the Military Readiness Enhancement Act that Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.) and her 149 co-sponsors from both parties put into the legislative hopper in the last Congress. Senator Kennedy is expecting senators from both parties to join him as co-sponsors. The fact is, there are no longer many members of the House or Senate who want to stand up and say, "No homosexuals in my Army." That doesn't play for votes the way it once did.

So it can be done. The DADT law can be repealed and a positive law opening the military to all qualified applicants can be passed. Our legislative leaders just need a little push from us and it's urgent that we give them that push. They must see the momentum behind the call to repeal and that it's not coming just from the LGBT community. It's coming from thinking straights as well.

That's why we're all coming together on the Capitol grounds March 13, rallying for repeal and shouting, "Yes, We Can" in case anybody has forgotten that we, in fact, can. The campaign mantra is America's mantra, and since we are all Americans, it's our mantra, too. Yes. We. Can.