Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The End of DADT?

A federal judge in San Diego, Calif. ruled on Tuesday that the military must immediately cease enforcement of the policy known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," which prevents homosexual men and women from openly serving.

The Justice Department has 60 days to appeal the ruling.

In issuing her decision, U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips perhaps did more to end the 17-year-old discriminatory policy than President Obama or the Democrat-controlled Congress. You'll recall that repealing DADT was prominent part of Obama's campaign, and he often called himself a "fierce advocate" for ending the policy -- even as he refused to sign an executive order ceasing enforcement of the policy pending Congressional repeal.

Speaking of that repeal, the House of Representatives passed it, while the Senate -- thanks to obstructionist Republicans -- failed.

Judge Phillips had already ruled DADT unconstitutional on Sept. 9, after a lawsuit brought forth by the Log Cabin Republicans. She argued the policy violated due process rights, freedom of speech and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances guaranteed by the First Amendment.

There's that Constitution thing conservatives claim to love again ...

Tuesday's decision came after Judge Phillips gave both sides time to provide input regarding an injunction. It is the latest development in what has become a political hot potato, with several high-ranking government officials saying they oppose the policy but not really acting toward its abolishing. President Obama, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Charmain of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen have all voiced support for repealing DADT, but none of them have taken action.

And no, this so-called Pentagon review that's supposed to end in December doesn't count.

From a governmental standpoint, Judge Phillips was within her rights to make this decision; as laid out by the Constitution, the judicial branch has the power to question the constitutionality of a law when it is brought before the courts -- like, say, in a lawsuit. That's what DADT is -- a law, passed by Congress during the Clinton administration.

The right can scream about a lefty, activist judge all it wants -- like it did back in August, when California's Prop 8 was ruled unconstitutional -- but Judge Phillips did not overstep her boundaries.

But while Judge Phillips' ruling is valid on constitutional grounds, it was also correct in terms of equality. We like to call America the land of equality, a country where everyone is treated the same regardless of their ethnic, racial, religious or sexual differences. The reality doesn't reflect that ideal, though, with policies that kicked capable soldiers out of the military for simply being gay and preventing same-sex couples from marrying.

The slow but seemingly inevitable death of DADT is a step toward that equality, but the fight isn't over. If the Justice Department appeals the ruling, then the policy can again be enforced. And with Congress dragging its feet (especially the Senate), the courts might be the best, if not only, avenue toward full equality in the military.

Expanding to a broader view, the courts might also be our best bet for things like marriage equality; a federal judge in Massachusetts has already deemed parts of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, on top of the Prop 8 decision in California. Congress is apparently unwilling to tackle this issue (and would be even less willing should Republicans regain control next month), while President Obama has not been nearly as fierce as he'd like us to believe.

So maybe the courts are our only option.

This was what the Constitution intended when it created the three separate branches of government: a system of checks and balances that allow fairness and progress to survive, without grinding everything to a halt. It's amazing what government is capable of when we're not knee-deep in partisan gridlock and the battle for the most outrageous soundbite.

Equality will eventually win out -- and Tuesday was an excellent step in that direction.

No comments:

Post a Comment