Blog of Rights

DADT Repeal – The Clock is Ticking

By Ian S. Thompson, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 11:56am

Over the weekend, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told the Associated Press that he would like to see Congress act to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" during the upcoming lame duck session, but that "I'm not sure what the prospects for that are." Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports that Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) is in talks with Ranking Member John McCain (R-Ariz.) about the possibility of stripping DADT repeal from the larger defense bill, in order to pass the legislation before the end of the current congressional session. Such a move would effectively kill legislative repeal of DADT for this year and, because of the recent midterm congressional elections, significantly increase the hurdles for such an effort in the new Congress which will be formally seated in January.

Failure to pass repeal of DADT this year would be a tragically missed opportunity. Rather than engaging in discussions about how not to advance this long overdue goal, champions like Sen. Levin and leading administration officials like Secretary Gates need to redouble their efforts over the coming weeks to getting this done. There is simply no excuse for inaction. It is time for our leaders to lead.

Further complicating the picture were the comments over the weekend of the new Marine Corps commandant, Gen. James F. Amos, in which he said that now is not the time to move forward with a repeal of DADT. Gen. Amos said:

There is nothing more intimate than young men and young women — and when you talk of infantry, we're talking our young men — laying out, sleeping alongside of one another and sharing death, fear and loss of brothers…I don't know what the effect of that will be on cohesion. I mean, that's what we're looking at. It's unit cohesion, it's combat effectiveness.
Gen. Amos seems to question whether young, male Marines would be able and willing to serve alongside fellow Marines who they knew where gay (Gasp!) given the intimate nature of Marine life. However, findings of a Pentagon survey that was sent to 400,000 active-duty and reserve service members (including Marines) found that a majority had no objections to serving with and living alongside gay and lesbian troops. The comments of Gen. Amos really speak to a narrowing, though still present, generational divide in terms of views and attitudes towards those who are lesbian, gay or bisexual, which is also present in civilian society. Many young service members know fellow troops who are gay, and yet they continue to serve and unit cohesion remains strong. For these servicemembers, the words of the late Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) really do ring true. Sen. Goldwater said, "You don't have to be straight to be in the military; you just have to be able to shoot straight."

Members of Congress, in the year 2010, would be wise to also remember Sen. Goldwater's words. The clock for passing a legislative repeal of the discriminatory and unconstitutional DADT is ticking away and time is running act. Please join with the ACLU in urging Congress to act and vote to repeal DADT this year. There is no reason and no excuse for delay. All who are willing to risk their lives in our armed forces should be allowed to serve with honesty and integrity.

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