Tuesday, May 25, 2010

DADT Compromise

Congressional Democrats, the president, and officials at the Pentagon have apparently reached a compromise that would allow the Democrats to vote on a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal this week. Gay Americans have pressured Democrats on Capitol Hill and in the White House to fulfill their vow to lift the ban on gays serving openly in the military.

The president said he would work to end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" this year but had, up to now, backed his Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' effort to postpone such a vote until a study which he commissioned was finished later this year. The defense secretary said there were smart and "stupid" ways to change policies at large, bureaucratic institutions and considered a vote to lift the ban before the study was completed, "stupid."

Gays who backed the president in the primary and general election, however, feared that their opportunities to lift the ban would dwindle after the midterm elections, particularly if the Democrats lose control of either House on Capitol Hill. Some liberal bloggers have posted moving letters, some written by gay Americans who served, and others by their relatives, calling for the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Congress would get a vote to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" next week but the change in policy would not go into effect until the the study was completed and after both, the White House and Defense Department, certify that lifting the ban would not hurt our national security. The Department of Defense gets to implement the repeal on its own time line using its own strategy while the Democrats on Congress can tell their constituents they have fulfilled their promise. Gay soldiers, in the meantime, wouldn't have to pretend they are straight, thereby depriving their loved ones of any information coming from the front lines, and the Department can save itself the time and costs associated with training any replacements needed after the removal of a gay soldier.

This compromise, however, appears to be unraveling. The Secretary of Defense undermined the case for a repeal when the Pentagon released a tepid endorsement for a repeal. Through his spokesman, Gates said he "can accept the language in the proposed amendment." Gates "can accept" but not endorse" the compromise proposed by Congress and he will "accept" the compromise only because Congress has indicated "that it would not be possible" to hold a vote on repealing DADT before the review is completed.

Should this compromise fail, the blame will lie with the White House and the Defense Secretary for providing moderate to conservative Democrats who fear the Tea Party's wrath cover to vote to uphold "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and once again, a promise which the Democrats have made to the gay community (and other constituents who may have voted for them) will remain unfulfilled.

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