Today, we mark six months since "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) was repealed, and the news is good. Service members of every branch and every rank - along with the nation's military leaders - are to be congratulated for the professionalism with which implementation is taking place. Indeed, the dire warnings of opponents have not come to pass - just as we knew they wouldn't. Repeal has not resulted in any comprising of unit cohesion, mass exodus from the services, or damage to the morale of the nation's fighting men and women.
So what has brought about this success?
Let's first remember that Congress passed a law establishing a process whereby DADT would go away if - that is, if - the Secretary of Defense, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the President all certified to Congress that the services were ready to make this change. There was nothing in the law that required certification to ever occur, and before certifying, our nation's leaders took all necessary steps to ensure that our military would be ready.
Even before repeal enabling legislation was signed by President Obama in December 2011, these preparations and contingent plans were underway. From the unprecedented engagement of the force in the form of the meetings conducted in the field to discuss the proposed changes with service members to the largest non-census survey of the nation's military in our history, planning was in place to ensure that repeal - if it happened - would occur in an environment that would foster its success. Extensive education and engagement of the forces occurred before certification, and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mike Mullen and then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates - even though they were not required to do so by law - consulted with all the service chiefs before recommending that repeal proceed.
That time in the field face to face with service members - coupled with the survey, education, and training - all came together to solidify the view of the military leadership, as well as the rank and file, that repeal could occur without disruption to the mission of the armed forces. Ultimately, it was the decision of the services to move away from DADT and write, issue, and implement a new set of regulations that now permit gays and lesbians to serve openly if they choose to do so.
But even as we herald the success we see, we know that implementation cannot be entirely successful as long as we have two classes of service members. Perhaps President Obama himself said it best when speaking to supporters recently about the repeal of DADT. He stated:
"We're going to have more work to do on this issue, as is true on a lot of other issues. There's still areas where fairness is not the rule."
That's why in October 2011 - just a month after repeal - SLDN filed landmark litigation to address these remaining issues. McLaughlin v. U.S. was brought by eight married gay and lesbian service members and veterans challenging the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and other federal statutes that preclude the military from providing equal recognition, support, and benefits to all families. These plaintiffs take the same risks, make the same sacrifices, and provide the same service, yet when it comes to benefits like housing, health care, survivor benefits, and family support, they are not treated the same as their straight, married peers.
However, there are a number of benefits that the Secretary of Defense has the authority to confer right now, even as DOMA and these other laws remain on the books. SLDN has been working for a number of months with the Pentagon to address these, and we should see something positive on this front before the end of March. The reality is DoD started looking at benefits long before repeal took place, including in the findings made by the Comprehensive Review Working Group. It's past time that the Secretary act on this front, and at this six-month mark, it would be entirely appropriate to do so.
So where does this leave us?
We can say with certainty that repeal is going well. We also can say with equal certainty that the issue of benefit parity is gaining steam. Commanders in the field are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with a two-tiered system of benefits and support for service members and their families. The colleagues of gay and lesbian military families are recognizing the inequalities and inherent unfairness of the status quo. Members of Congress are hearing from their constituents that it's time to address this next battle in the fight for full equality.
It's time to repeal DOMA and change these discriminatory laws. We cannot be a nation with two classes of service members.