Monday, July 27, 2009

Gillibrand to Hold Don't Ask, Don't Tell Hearings

We interrupt the incessant health care reform debate to bring you news on another hot-button topic of the Obama administration ...

The Daily Beast is reporting that Senator Kristen Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) has prompted the Senate to hold hearings on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the policy enacted in 1993 that prevents gays and lesbians from openly serving in the military. Even though the repeal of DADT was one of Barack Obama's campaign promises, little has happened on that front -- unless you count the 265 men and women who have been dismissed under the policy since Obama took office.

The hearings are an indirect result of Gillibrand offering an amendment to the Military Reauthorization Act, which would've halted DADT. The amendment was never introduced since, in spite of the support of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), she did not have enough votes to prevent a filibuster.

Still, the hearings are a sign that things may be changing. The administration has been slow, even reluctant, to act, though Obama did host several leaders of the GLBT community at the White House last month. During that meet-and-greet, the President again pledged his support in repealing DADT, claiming the act harmed our national security.

At this point, though, Obama has been all talk.

According to a recent Gallup poll, 69 percent of Americans think gays should be allowed to serve in the military. Public opinion toward homosexuals has evolved since 1993 -- if nothing else, the focus now is on whether they should be allowed to marry -- and there are plenty of people throughout the country, gay or straight, trying to hold the President to his word.

These hearings are one of the first steps. The House is also getting involved; Iraq veteran and freshman Congressman Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.) has taken the lead on the Military Readiness Enhancement Act -- which would repeal DADT.

Obama could strike an executive order to suspend the enforcement of DADT until Congress passes a repeal, but he has yet to do so -- even though the Palm Center at UC-Santa Barbara asked him to back in May. If Obama were to draft an executive order and a bill never made its way through Congress, there remains the chance that Obama's successor could draft an executive order of his or her own to reinstitute DADT.

There's also the matter of perception. After the allegations being levied against the Bush administration for not always adhering to the law, Obama has to be careful not to give the same impression. Though he repeatedly calls for the repeal of DADT, the President is mindful that the law is still intact, and an executive order to halt its enforcement could give the impression that the administration feels its above the law.

Remember Richard Nixon and his "when the President does it, it's not illegal" line? Yeah, let's avoid that, if we could ...

This way, by letting Congress take the lead, Obama would be making the repeal more solid. The issue hasn't been resolved in a timely fashion -- leading to ire from one of Obama's largest bases of support during the campaign last year -- but between Murphy's bill in the House and these hearings the Senate are calling for, DADT could be a thing of the past before too much longer.

Just not long enough for the capable servicemen and women who are either fighting to stay in the military or constantly looking over their shoulders, worrying if members of their platoon will "out" them. This isn't just a moral issue; this is a national security issue.

DADT needs to go. Our safety depends on it.

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