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Aubrey Sarvis Headshot

What Can Be Done Now on DADT

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This is getting ridiculous. In fact, it's beyond ridiculous -- if it weren't so sad. "Don't ask, don't tell" is fast becoming the buck that never stops. It's passed from Congress to the Pentagon to the White House and back again. And again. And again. The gift that keeps on giving? Thank you, Congress.

Yes, President Obama has tested the patience of many when it comes to the speed -- or rather the lack of it -- in fulfilling his promises on gay rights in general and "don't ask, don't tell" in particular. He talks the talk -- and quite eloquently, too -- but his walk is still tentative and at times wobbly. Yes, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and their Chairman, Admiral Mullen, and their boss Defense Secretary Robert Gates have been dragging their feet. No big surprise there. But the fact is, 16 years ago Congress passed this offensive law and Congress owns it today. But Congress could easily disown it.

Opportunity awaits when the Senators return to Washington this week. In short order they will be debating the Defense Department budget. All the Senators need do is pass an amendment to the Defense Department bill directing Secretary Gates to stop DADT investigations while Congress acts on full repeal. A simple, straightforward way for the Senate to begin undoing the mess the Senate created is to add language to the Defense authorization bill that "directs the Secretary of Defense to instruct the Secretaries of each of the armed services that there may be no investigation or inquiry into, or any administrative action relating to conduct described in 10 U.S.C. § 654(b), 'Policy concerning homosexuality in the armed forces,' until the end of the 111th Congress, provided that this shall not limit the authority of the Secretaries of the armed services with respect to conduct that would violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice."

The Senate Democratic caucus, now sixty members strong, should eagerly get behind this amendment. Moderate and responsible Republicans and Independents can and should support it. In fact, is there a single Senator who, in a time of two wars, wants to stand up on the Senate floor and say of patriotic service members who have volunteered to fight and if necessary give their lives for their country, "They're gay. Kick 'em out"?

When the Senate passes this amendment to the Defense authorization bill (notice I say "when," not "if"; I'm an optimist), it goes back to the House where Speaker Pelosi can show that she and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are in this fight -- this fight that never should have been a fight -- together.

Even Secretary Gates has moved from "the president and I feel like we've got a lot on our plates right now and let's push that one [DADT] down the road a little bit" (last March) to "if we do it" (last April) to seeing "if there's at least a more humane way to apply the law until the law gets changed" (last week). Humane? Well, I won't quibble; at least he's moved from if to when, and he was discussing it with the senior military and with the president the week before. In his press conference last week, the Secretary said the question is "how do we begin to do preparations" and at the same time how does "the administration move forward in terms of asking the Congress to change the law"? He's also looking at what "flexibility" there is in the law as it now stands. Well, that's progress. Not nearly enough progress but it's still progress. Only General Colin Powell and former Senator Sam Nunn, both largely responsible for "don't ask, don't tell" in the first place, are still calling for yet another review, another "study" -- but not for repeal.

The New Republic takes the president to task in a tough editorial this week. "[N]othing is more infuriating than Obama's refusal to act on Don't Ask, Don't Tell. . . . discrimination in our armed forces carries a potent symbolism: It tells an entire class of people that the country is not interested in their service."

The editorial cites the Gallup poll showing 69 percent of Americans believe that gays should be able to serve their country openly. "To put that number in perspective, it is 25 points higher than the percentage of Americans who endorse Obama's handling of health care, 19 points higher than the percentage who currently support the war in Afghanistan, and 18 points higher than the percentage who approve of the administration's economic policies. Obama is not afraid to push health care reform, send more troops to Afghanistan, or stand by his stimulus program -- nor should he be. But why, when it comes to the far less controversial cause of gays serving in the military, is he apparently willing to punt?"

They've all been punting -- the president, the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the United States Congress as well. Surely these men and women are not wimps. Now let the Senate amend the Defense authorization bill, let the Pentagon and the president support it loud and clear, let the House endorse it, and the president sign it. Then the president and the Congress can work together to wipe this entire shameful law off the books. For good.

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