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One Small Step in Repealing DADT, the Big Leap Awaits

Ian S. Thompson,
Senior Legislative Advocate,
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March 26, 2010

Early Thursday morning, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced several changes to the Pentagon’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) regulations that are designed to carry out the current discriminatory law in a “fairer and more appropriate manner.” Spencer Ackerman, writing for The Washington Independent, concludes that the changes will effectively make it more difficult to remove a soldier, sailor, airman or marine who does not out himself or herself as gay. Here’s hoping…

Among the changes outlined by Secretary Gates, which are to take effect immediately and apply to all open and future cases, are raising the level of officer who is authorized to initiate a DADT investigation and restricting what constitutes “credible information” and a “reliable” source for that information.

Meanwhile, the high-level Pentagon working group that Secretary Gates has tasked with developing recommendations for implementing a repeal of DADT (which requires congressional action) will continue. They are expected to conclude their work by December. If a report released by the Center for American Progress earlier this week is a guide, repeal will present very minimal and manageable administrative, bureaucratic and legal changes that will need to be made to the military’s internal regulations. This is hardly the Pandora’s Box that opponents attempt to portray it as.

While yesterday’s changes are certainly a welcome step, and indicate that the Pentagon and Obama administration are very serious about working to repeal this discriminatory and counterproductive policy, I am disappointed that they did not go as far as they could have. They did not, for example, adopt a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit that found the Air Force must prove that discharging a decorated U.S. Air Force flight nurse was necessary for purposes of military readiness. The ACLU is representing the Air Force flight nurse in question — Maj. Margaret Witt. Adopting such a standard would have turned the logic of DADT on its head and given a greater level of protection to tens of thousands of gay and lesbian service members who are currently forced to live a lie in order to serve their country.

At the end of the day, the need for Congress to act and pass a full and complete repeal of DADT remains. Nothing short of that is acceptable, and nothing short of that will end this shameful, outdated dinosaur of a policy. We continue to urge Congress to heed President Obama’s call and pass a DADT repeal this year.

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