DADT Repealed: Landmark Human Rights or Impractical Oversight?
During his 2008 presidential campaign, then-Senator Barack Obama pledged to bring an end to the homophobic “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy of the American Military. As of December 18th, 2010, this controversial policy is no more.
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” simplified to DADT, is a policy, in effect since 1993, which prohibited the military from making efforts to discover or reveal closeted gay, lesbian, or bisexual service members. It stems from the United States law which prohibits people who "demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts" from serving in the armed forces of the United States, because their presence "would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability” (Title 10 of the United States Code). DADT has resulted in the discharge of more than 13,000 patriotic and highly qualified men and women since its enactment more than 16 years ago based purely on their sexual orientation.
Although 16 years ago, the majority of Americans and the men and women of the service agreed with this policy, numerous public opinion polls within American civilian society over the past decade have noted a substantial increase in the acceptance of openly gay men and women serving in the military. Even some of those who helped to bring the law into action have agreed that it was based on nothing more than fear and prejudice.
DADT has gained a lot of attention since Obama’s promise and subsequent election. In May, the repeal of the policy first appeared an 800-page defense authorization bill passed by the House, but the bill failed a procedural vote in the Senate last week, requiring the House to vote again on a new measure to end the ban. Last week, Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced the new bill, which had forty seven cosponsors, including Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid.
"It's time to end a policy of official discrimination that has cost America the service of some 13,500 men and women who wore our uniform with honor," Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said Wednesday. "It's time to stop throwing away their service -- their willingness to die for our country -- because of who they are."
On Saturday, December 18th, 2010, the Senate voted 65-31 to end DADT. The vote represents a historic step for LGBTQ rights in the United States, and for all Americans in the direction of human rights. But the long road ahead will reveal just how ready the American Military is for this decision. As Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness and a vocal defender of the current military policy, worries, this decision might have been made "before most members of Congress have sufficient time to consider the consequences of that reckless action."
Yes, it is a generalization to say that the American military is homophobic, because yes, there are plenty of servicemen and women who support homosexual and bisexual service members. But laws address the stereotypes, not the exceptions. Colonel Ken Allard, who served on the West Point faculty, as dean of the National War College and as a NATO peacekeeper in Bosnia, voices his concerns about the problems of repealing DADT, especially now, with American troops in the midst of combat:
“The unforeseen complications of integrating women [during the 1970s] should serve as cautionary tales for politicians who believe that changing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will be a simple matter. The military is an organic and profoundly interconnected community where you never enjoy the luxury of changing just one thing, even during peaceful times. This is especially true on matters as intensely personal as human sexuality, always a continuing compromise with the traditional military values of uniformity, cohesion, and self-sacrifice. Basically, you put the Band of Brothers first: your natural desires a distant second (gay or straight, licit or illicit).”
As civilians, I think it is safe to say that while we may respect military members, it is hard for us to understand the ins and outs of military life. While we stand on the sidelines, protesting social injustice and lobbying for humans rights, we forget that DADT doesn’t affect civilians -- it effects the military, and we often don’t think about how it will effect things like unit cohesion in combat, partner benefits, new norms of sexual harassment or even a basic re-definition of the military family. Tinkering with such aspects of military life in the midst of two wars is, well, impractical and possibly insensitive on the part of the general American public.
This, of course, is food for thought. I celebrate along with Lady GaGa, Barack Obama, and the majority of Americans in this landmark decision. But in the back of my mind, I also remember that is life, and things are never so simple. Here’s to the can of unforeseeable worms we, as a nation, have opened up in the name of equality. Cheers!
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