Repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: Protecting America and Its Principles

July 5, 2011

Our Position

Since 1993, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has forced gays and lesbians to choose between serving their county in silence and not serving at all. Any gay or lesbian who discusses or otherwise shares their sexual orientation with their fellow soldiers can be discharged, while no such restriction applies to heterosexuals. The value of a life put on the line should not be determined by sexual orientation. This is wholly inconsistent with the honesty and integrity we associate with the armed forces, not to mention the values of equality and freedom of expression required by our Constitution. In December 2010, Congress, President Obama, military leaders, servicemembers, veterans, and the American people were united in recognizing that repeal was necessary to restore these values. But servicemembers are still waiting. We’re all still waiting. We need swift certification and effectuation of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Talking Points

Americans support open service. Public attitudes on the issue have undergone a sea change since Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was adopted back in 1993. Nationwide polls now consistently show a majority of Americans support the right of gays and lesbians to serve their country openly and honestly, ranging from 58% to 67%, and as high as 78%. That poll, taken by CNN and the Opinion Research Corporation in May 2010, also showed strong support between men and women and across the political spectrum, and Gallup (June 2009) found strong (and increasing) support among conservatives (58%) and weekly churchgoers (60%).

Military leaders support open service. Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen strongly supported the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and has continued to support it in the implementation phase. We can also count support from former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, as well as former Secretary of Defense William Cohen and former Secretary of State and Joint Chiefs Chairman General Colin Powell – the latter two of whom supported Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in the 1990s. Even former Vice President and Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney recognizes that “society has moved on.”

Servicemembers and veterans support open service. The official Department of Defense Working Group report released on November 30, 2010 found that a full 70% of those currently serving in the armed forces believe that allowing gay and lesbian Americans to serve openly in the military would have a positive effect, a mixed effect, or no effect at all. 92% of those who reported having worked with gay or lesbian servicemembers said that the experience was good, very good, or had no impact. Moreover, a March 2010 Vet Voice Foundation/Lake Research Partners/American Viewpoint poll of Afghanistan and Iraq veterans found that an overwhelming majority (73%) would accept open service. This is similar to a December 2006 Palm Center/Zogby International poll that found that 78% of Afghanistan and Iraq veterans would still have joined the military had there been open service.

Our allies support open service. Australia, Israel, Great Britain, and Canada allow gays and lesbians to serve equally and openly, and studies of their militaries have shown no adverse impact upon recruitment or retention. They are among the over two dozen countries that have such a policy in place.

The costs of exclusion are significant for our military and our economy. The more than 14,000 servicemembers discharged under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell include many who fill vital roles. For instance, while the military suffers a shortage of Arab linguists, it has nevertheless expelled a number of them under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. To lose these or any specialists means we have lost a great deal of skill, and a great deal of money. Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent to investigate, harass, discharge, and replace qualified, honorable, patriotic Americans.

If we really are ready to end this policy, the time to do so is now. We must keep the pressure on in the face of congressional challenges. Gays and lesbians both in and out of the service are ready and willing to step up in the spirit of shared sacrifice. At least 66,000 have already done so. They deserve to do so in an open and honest forum. But even as military leaders are reporting success in training the troops for implementation of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal, opponents want to disrupt the mission. This is unacceptable and cannot stand.

Legislation

On November 30, 2010, the Pentagon released the Report of the Comprehensive Review of the Issues Associated with a Repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Three weeks later, on December 22, President Obama signed the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act into law, but without a new nondiscrimination policy, and including a number of conditions, such as the requirement that President Obama, the Secretary of Defense (now Leon Panetta), and Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen certify that repeal is consistent with military readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting. Repeal is held until 60 days after that certification is made.

Enactment followed several key votes, including strong votes for passage in both the House and Senate.

Today, even as military leaders are working hard to train the troops for repeal implementation, and reporting back success, repeal opponents in the House want to disrupt the mission through the FY12 Defense Authorization bill.

  • Section 533 – Slow down repeal by adding the service chiefs to the certification process. A thoughtful process is already in place. Repeal must be certified by the President, the Defense Secretary, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in order for it to go into effect, and even then there is 60-day waiting period prior to the full policy change. These Administration officials are the people tasked with setting military policy. The services chiefs will advise as appropriate, but are ultimately tasked with executing policies set at the Administration level.
  • Section 534 – Enshrine DOMA within the military and the DOD civilian corps. DOMA is unconstitutional. The courts agree. So do President Obama and the Attorney General. With DOMA’s future, at the very least, up for review, if not wholly in doubt, it would be foolish to reaffirm it now.
  • Section 535 – Restrict the right of chaplains and other military and civilian personnel, and the use of DOD property, to perform marriage ceremonies. When DADT repeal takes effect, even if DOMA remains in place, there is no reason why these personnel and facilities shouldn’t be available to same-sex couples whose marriages are recognized at the state level. We wouldn’t force individual chaplains to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, but we also shouldn’t restrict their ability if they wish to do so. Religious liberty is one of the fundamental constitutional principles that members of the military risk their lives to protect. To impose a legislative ban on certain religious ceremonies is an insult to those who have given their lives to protect us from such repression.

Thankfully, the harmful provisions passed by the House have yet to materialize in the Senate. We will continue to monitor the bill’s progress as we look toward the Senate floor and eventually the conference committee.

Action

Contact your Representative and Senators and tell them how important it is that we swiftly certify and effectuate the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Remind them that repeal protects both our nation and the principle of equal protection under the law. Thank them if they supported repeal in any of the above-mentioned votes, and urge them to resist any repeal challenges as they consider the FY12 Defense Authorization bill. Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper explaining how finally putting into effect the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will honor both the service of gays and lesbians and fundamental military and constitutional values.

Further Reading

Human Rights Campaign
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
Servicemembers Legal Defense Network
Servicemembers United

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