by Rex Wockner
The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee and the full U.S. House of Representatives both voted to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on open gays in the military May 27.
The vote in the Senate committee was 16-12. The vote in the House was 234-194. In the House, only five Republicans voted for repeal and only 26 Democrats voted against it.
A full Senate vote is expected in late June or early July.
However, congressional action will not end the ban.
Language included in the legislation stipulates that the repeal will not take effect until the Pentagon’s Comprehensive Review Working Group completes an ongoing study on DADT repeal implementation (scheduled to be finished Dec. 1), and until President Barack Obama, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen certify that the military will not be harmed by implementing the repeal in accord with the study’s final recommendations, and until 60 additional days have passed after that certification.
Michigan Democratic Sen. Carl Levin was a large player in the passage of the amendment in counsel, and has been an outspoken supporter of repeal.
Levin has said that though he acknowledges the importance of such a study, this amendment is necessary now. “That’s essentially what we put our stamp of approval on today, is the kind of decision that should be repealed but withholding the effective date of any repeal until after that study is finished, plus, after the certification by the top military officer that there will be no negative impact on morale or on readiness,” he said.
Assuming the repeal continues its trajectory through Congress unscathed, the earliest the ban could be lifted would be sometime in February 2011 – which some activists find unacceptable. The repeal is an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, the major spending bill that funds the U.S. military for next year, and there are several points at which congressional opponents still could attempt to block the repeal from landing on Obama’s desk – including a threatened Senate filibuster, led by homophobe John McCain of Arizona, of the entire defense spending bill. (The full spending bill passed the House a day later by a vote of 229-186.)
The mainstream of the LGBT movement, however, hailed the May 27 developments.
“Lawmakers today stood on the right side of history,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “This is a historic step to strengthen our armed forces and to restore honor and integrity to those who serve our country so selflessly.”
“This … demonstrates real momentum in the battle to finally rid the United States Code of the outdated ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law,” said Alexander Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, the largest organization of gay veterans and troops. “All of us who … have been impacted by this law will remember this day as the beginning of the end.”
Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, warned that the developments do not yet make it safe for gays and lesbians in the military to stop hiding.
“It doesn’t end the discharges,” Sarvis said.
“It is important for all gay and lesbian, active-duty service members, including the reserves and the National Guard, to know they’re at risk. They must continue to serve in silence under the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law that remains on the books. Congress and the Pentagon need to stay on track to get repeal finalized, hopefully no later than first quarter 2011.”
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey said the congressional votes marked “a critical step toward closing a shameful chapter in our nation’s history, and toward creating a path that could end in men and women being able to serve openly, honestly, and to great benefit of our country.”
“While this is an important step toward ending an unjust law, we continue to call for clear assurances of protection, a specific timeline for repeal implementation, and an immediate halt to the discharges,” she said. “The lives and livelihoods of dedicated service members hang in the balance.”
President Obama was happy with the votes.
“I have long advocated that we repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and I am pleased that both the House of Representatives and the Senate Armed Services Committee took important bipartisan steps toward repeal tonight,” he said on May 27. “Key to successful repeal will be the ongoing Defense Department review, and as such I am grateful that the amendments offered by Rep. Patrick Murphy and Sens. Joseph Lieberman and Carl Levin that passed today will ensure that the Department of Defense can complete that comprehensive review that will allow our military and their families the opportunity to inform and shape the implementation process. … 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.”
Direct-action group GetEQUAL, however, was not appeased.
“The sad fact remains that this vote in Congress won’t stop the firings of lesbian and gay service members,” said co-chair Kip Williams. “We keep asking the question, ‘When will the military discharges end?’ and have not yet received an answer from the legislative or executive branches. It is immoral for the commander in chief to allow even one more investigation or discharge to happen under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ If not now, then when will the discharges finally come to a halt?
“It is the president’s moral responsibility to issue an executive order banning the firings under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell until the process can play itself out. LGBT Americans, especially those serving our country admirably in uniform, need their ‘fierce advocate’ now.”
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, enacted in 1993, has resulted in the firings of more than 14,000 service members based on their sexual orientation, and is estimated to have led tens of thousands more to voluntarily terminate their military careers because of the burden of lying about who they are.