THE BLOG

Will Tea Party Climate Repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"?

09/16/2010 06:47 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

With the global-wide kerfuffle about an Islamophobic minister, Rev. Terry Jones of Gainesville, Florida, threatening to burn the Koran on the ninth anniversary of 9/11, little attention last week was given to a federal district court judge's ruling that the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) ban on gays and lesbians serving openly is unconstitutional.

"In order to justify the encroachment on these rights, defendants faced the burden at trial of showing the 'Don't ask, don't tell' act was necessary to significantly further the government's important interests in military readiness and unit cohesion. Defendants failed to meet that burden," the judge wrote.

While it was laudable that California judge, Virginia A. Phillips struck down former President Bill Clinton's 1993 policy that bars lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) service members from the military, how does this action strengthen the Pentagon's study (a review due December 1st) on how to maintain the military's "unit cohesion" while integrating LGBTQ service members, in our favor?

At the end of the day, despite Judge Phillips' historic ruling, the plight of our LGBTQ service members remain unchanged.

To date, more than 13,500 LGBTQ service members have been discharged under DADT, and the number continues to grow.

Polls have revealed, however, that where the country was in 1993 with DADT is vastly different from where the country is today. As a matter of fact, most Americans -- even Republicans -- are not adverse to the military having LGBTQ service members.

In May, with a vote of 230 to 191, the House of Representatives passed to repeal DADT. On the same day the House passed to repeal DADT, so too did the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"This legislation will help make our armed forces even stronger and more inclusive by allowing gay and lesbian soldiers to serve honestly and with integrity," President Obama told the Associated Press.

Supporters of lifting the ban argue that allowing LGBTQ service members to serve openly would improve the military because it would draw tens of thousands of additional recruits. And government reports have shown that many of our LGBTQ service members who have been discharged under DADT had critical skills, such as foreign-language proficiency, that are in great demand for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

And just last week a surprise Twitter feed of "One Man, One Woman," a group that describes itself as "working to preserve, protect, and defend the institution of marriage between a man and a woman," wrote, "There is no need to prohibit gays and lesbians from openly serving in the Armed Forces. They should have the opportunity to serve."

But with the momentum of Tea Party candidates (who are mostly anti-Obama, anti-abortion, and anti-gay civil rights) unseating long-term Republican incumbents in this recent primary and aggressively trying to retake Congress with midterm elections now just weeks away, the chances of repealing DADT is looking slimmer.

Also, with both Republican and Democratic candidates revving up to campaign for midterm elections, playing to their bases' concerns about taxes and the economy, putting pressure on the Senate to vote immediately to repeal the policy is not likely.

With the military having the real power to either overturn or to uphold DADT, where does this really leave our LGBTQ service members?

For many in the LGBTQ community, we are anxious about the repeal of DADT coming to fruition, hoping for the President and his administration to effect real and substantive change on our behalf.

But given the political climate now, could Obama have done something sooner to repeal DADT?

I think so.

For example, in 2008, as a campaign promise to LGBTQ voters, Senator Obama emphatically stated he would repeal the discriminatory policy -- he campaigned on a full repeal of the law. Soon after Obama's inauguration in 2009, the LGBTQ community waited anxiously to hear that steps were being made to repeal DADT. But on June 8th of that year, when the Supreme Court refused to review the Pentagon policy that prohibits LGBTQ service members to serve openly in the military, Obama's people added salt to the wounds of our LGBTQ service members by stating in court papers that the ruling on DADT was correct because of the military's legitimate concern of LGBTQ service members endangering "unit cohesion" -- a concept totally debunked by a 2002 study.

Back in the day, LGBTQ service members who died while servicing our country were either closeted about their sexual orientation or were discharged under "honorable conditions" called "Fraudulent Enlistment."

Unfortunately, today not much has changed.

And come Dec. 1st, if DADT isn't repealed in this Tea Party climate, not only will the Obama administration have reneged on its promise to LGBTQ service members, but it will also have reneged on American troops being the strongest they could be.

Our LGBTQ service members are prepared to defend this country with their lives, but not all of our service members are honored for their acts of bravery and patriotism.

The war they should be fighting is the one that awaits them out there -- not the war here at home.