On Thursday night, May 27, two historic votes occurred that will pave the way for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, the failed and harmful policy that bans bisexual, gay and lesbian people from serving openly in the US military.
The House of Representatives voted to include language that repeals DADT in the Defense Authorization bill that subsequently passed with a vote of 229 to 186. On the same evening, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted to include the same language in their version of the Defense Authorization bill. These are crucial first steps towards a full repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, but the policy remains in place. Service members are still being fired if they are found to be bisexual, gay or lesbian. If you or someone you know is serving in the military, please read SLDN’s warning to service members.
The Senate bill is expected to be sent to the floor for a vote later this summer. If the bill passes the Senate, both bills will be reviewed by a conference committee during the August recess. The House and Senate will then vote on the conference report, which could conceivably put the Defense Authorization Act on the President’s desk by early October.
Public pressure to repeal DADT has gotten us this far, but we must keep it up if repeal language is to stay intact throughout this process. In the run up to a Senate vote, the amendments could be weakened or stricken altogether by opponents of repeal. Even if the amendments go through as part of the final bill, the President and Pentagon leaders must certify that the military is prepared for repeal. They must show that the change in policy is consistent with current military standards of readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion, recruitment and retention.
The Pentagon is studying how to implement repeal and how it will affect service members and their families. The decision whether or not to certify repeal will be based on the results of this study, which will be submitted on or before December 1, 2010. 60 days after the President transmits his certification to Congress, repeal of DADT will go into effect.
Repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will not immediately allow for open service. It does, however pave the way for the military to put policies and regulations into place allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly. Several top military officials, including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, support full repeal and open service.
Repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is only the first step to open and safe service for gay and lesbian soldiers. The language in the Defense Authorization bills does not require the military to create policy of non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. As a matter of precedent, the military sets its own non-discrimination policies and federal law has never done so – Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin, has never applied to the armed forces. Discrimination and harassment in the military based on sexual orientation will take time and effort to eradicate, but last week’s victories present the best opportunity for progress towards this goal in the history of our nation’s military.
The President, top Pentagon leaders, and a majority of members of Congress support DADT repeal. Those who believe that our military must reflect American values of dignity, integrity and honesty know that open service is the only way to allow all members of the armed forces to live out these values. As advocates of full equality for bisexual, gay, lesbian and transgender people, the UUA and its members are called to support all legislation that protects people from discrimination, violence and exclusion based on their identities. Click here for more information on the UUA’s work to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”