Twenty years ago, it would not have happened, but last week the nation’s top military officer declared to Congress that permitting gay servicemen and women to openly serve is “the right thing to do.”
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and chief military adviser to President Barack Obama, acknowledged that while there are many opposing viewpoints about ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ (DADT), its day has come. It’s time to play Taps.
Mullen, echoing the President, in his State of the Union address, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he was “speaking for myself and myself only,” but it is a voice with clout.
Last June, at a White House gay pride event, President Obama repeated the promise he made during the 2008 presidential campaign to fight to repeal the law.
He reinforced that promise during the annual HRC dinner last October.
It all culminated during Obama’s first State of the Union last month, when he said without ambiguity: “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. It’s the right thing to do.”
Local reaction among South Florida GLBT leaders was cautious. “I will be disappointed if it doesn’t change,” said Earl Rynerson, owner of CLAD Tile and Stone in Fort Lauderdale and a retired lieutenant colonel in the United States Air Force with 20 years’ service active and Reserve duty.
“I believe that Obama intends to try to end it,” Rynerson offers. “My concern is that some of the more politically connected senior military brass won’t actively support the change.”
Log Cabin Republican Andy Eddy, an honorably discharged gay Air Force vet, was more skeptical. “If the president were truly committed to the repeal of DADT he would have, early on, formulated a transition team to work with Pentagon officials between November 2008 and January 20, 2009 on the lifting of the ban,” he said.
Without praising Obama, Eddy is firmly opposed to the law. “I, as do others, hope that our rational and fair minded elected officials and appointed justices understand the tragedy of DADT and realize that the ban is an affront to the essence of the U.S. Constitution which offers ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ to all the citizens of this great country.”
Eddy and other gay and lesbian leaders point out that Obama could sign an executive or stop-loss order prohibiting the Defense Department from discharging troops under DADT. But military experts point out that an executive order would be just a temporary fix, since the 16-year-old law was passed by Congress, and so Congress must be the architect of its repair.
Colonel Grethe Cammermeyer, a retired Army nursing officer who was discharged under the previous Pentagon policy for admitting that she is a lesbian and later reinstated to the service by federal court order, agrees. “Until the law is overturned everyone who discloses or is identified is at risk for discharge. That is what happened to many during the moratorium of 1993.”
Echoing Obama’s and Mullen’s “right thing to do” thoughts, she added: “It is beyond time that the 66,000 serving in the military today be allowed to do so with truth and integrity.”
In many ways, it was Obama’s personal distaste for the law that drove his resolve. Those familiar with Oval Office strategy sessions report that the chief executive studied court cases challenging the ban and concluded that if he didn’t fight for the policy’s change, his administration would find itself defending in federal court a law that he strenuously opposes.
Said Rynerson, a former military flight instructor and once a candidate for Fort Lauderdale Mayor: “It’ll be the first noteworthy accomplishment of this administration.”
Thirty-one nations – including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Israel, and the United Kingdom – allow gays to serve openly in their armed forces.
According to Gallup polling, 69% of Americans (including 58% of Republicans and 58% of conservatives) favor a repeal of DADT. That majority did not exist in 1993, when DADT was passed.
A 2006 Zogby International poll of 545 Afghanistan and Iraq veterans found three-quarters saying they were comfortable around gay service members.
According to numbers released in February of 2009, the Defense Department discharged the fewest number of service members for violating DADT than it had for over a decade. There were 428 dismissed, compared with 619 in 2008.
In Congress, Representative Patrick Murphy (D-PA), an Iraq war vet, has secured 187 co-sponsors for his Military Readiness Enhancement Act, which would end DADT. He needs 218 to make it happen.