Last evening, President Obama committed only one sentence to the issue of gays and lesbians serving openly in the military, but it was one huge sentence that gives our troops overseas a lot of hope that support is on the way. On the issue of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell law that keeps gays and lesbians from serving openly, the President said, "This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are." That was a huge moment of hope for those of us who served and are serving (even if the Joint Chiefs, by protocol, had to refrain from applause).
The key word here -- what makes the statement so important -- is "Congress." While the President can and should consider using the power of the budget to temporarily repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell (by defunding investigations under the law), only a law passed through Congress can permanently repeal the law.
That can't come soon enough. Fighting in two wars, and reminded that our military has other responsibilities around the world, like in Haiti, overextension of our forces will continue for the foreseeable future. That means men and women being pushed to the brink on their fifth and sixth tours. Meanwhile, specialists, like hundreds of desperately needed translators, have been ripped from our military under Don't Ask, Don't Tell, leaving our servicemembers to fight shorthanded. Both of these issues can be alleviated with a repeal of the law.
Indeed, just this week, the Williams Institute at UCLA found that a repeal "could attract an estimated 36,700 men and women to active duty service along with 12,000 more individuals to the guard and reserve." (Report here, PDF required) It also found that there are an estimated 65,752 gays and lesbians currently serving. All of them are one mistake away from being kicked out. Just leaving a letter from their partner out in the open for a moment could lead to an investigation and discharge. We just can't afford to lose these men and women for being who they are.
Speaking of investigations, with government spending all the rage these days, it's worth noting that we've spent as much as half a billion dollars to conduct investigations under Don't Ask, Don't Tell since it was implemented in 1994. And that doesn't even consider the time-drain this places on our officers who have to conduct the investigations rather than, say, lead men and women in a crucial fight against terrorist enemies of America.
Any way you slice it, our military and our nation's security and wellbeing would be better off with a repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. To keep it in place is sheer lunacy. In the immediate term, it robs our military of the people it needs to win the wars we're in and protect America. In the long-run, it only will continue to handicap our forces and drain our treasury.
By committing to pushing a repeal through Congress this year, the President has acknowledged that this isn't just an issue of fairness to mull over for a while -- it's a desperate national security issue that must be addressed now.
Note: You can join VoteVets.org in calling on Congress to repeal the Don't Ask, Don't Tell law by signing our petition here.