Wednesday, December 15, 2010

DADT Victory

It is easy sometimes to lose perspective on things, especially if you are a progressive politically.  Simply put, 90% of the time we are on the losing end, even after winning an election.  That is nothing new.  However, we should still look back and pay respects to those times when we (all of us, as citizens) win.

Like with civil rights, we are on the right side of LGBT rights.  It is an issue that is a recent phenomenon in US political history, and it is not one that most people would have seen as a viable issue well into the 2000s.  Indeed, in 1990 80% of Americans polled thought that homosexuality was immoral and/or wrong in some way.  Today, 77% of Americans favor repealing the military's don't-ask-don't-tell policy restricting open gays and lesbians in the armed forces (and the country is almost evenly split on gay marriage).  That is not a minor achievement.  Neither is today's vote, in the US House of Representatives, repealing DADT.

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House votes again to lift restrictions on gays

WASHINGTON – For the second time this year the House voted to dismantle the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, giving the Senate a final shot in the waning days of this Congress at changing a law requiring thousands of uniformed gays to hide their sexual identity.

The strong 250-175 House vote Wednesday propels the issue to the Senate, where supporters of repeal say they have the votes but perhaps not the time to get the bill to the floor. It could be the last chance for some time to end the 1993 law that forbids recruiters from asking about sexual orientation and troops from acknowledging that they are gay.

Democratic leaders in the Senate say they are committed to bringing the bill to the floor before Congress adjourns for the year. But they are challenged by opposition from some Republicans and a daunting agenda that includes finishing work on legislation to fund the government and ratifying a nuclear arms treaty with Russia.

No time has been set for a Senate vote on repealing "don't ask, don't tell." Failure to overturn the policy this year could relegate the issue to the back burner next year when Republicans, who are far less supportive of allowing openly gay individuals to serve in the military, take over the House and gain strength in the Senate.
President Barack Obama, in a statement Wednesday night, said he applauded the House vote. In reiterating his support for ending the ban, he pointed to backing for repeal from the defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"Moving forward with the repeal is not only the right thing to do, it will also give our military the clarity and certainty it deserves," Obama said. "We must ensure that Americans who are willing to risk their lives for their country are treated fairly and equally by their country."

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said in a statement after the House vote that Defense Secretary Robert Gates encourages the Senate to lift the ban and thus enable the Defense Department "to carefully and responsibly manage a change in this policy instead of risking an abrupt change resulting from a decision in the courts."

Last May the House voted 234-194 in favor of repeal legislation as part of a larger defense bill. The measure has stalled twice in the Senate, where Republicans have objected to taking up the defense bill laded with contentious issues, including "don't ask, don't tell."

"Now is the time for us to act," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday, and "close the door on a fundamental unfairness in our nation."

Gaveling the end of the vote was Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., one of the House's few openly gay members. Frank, in his floor speech, said it was "bigoted nonsense" that "the presence of someone like me will so destabilize our brave young men and women that they will be unable to do their duty."

"This vote," said Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Pa., the Iraq war veteran who sponsored the bill, "is about whether we're going to continue telling people willing to die for our freedoms that they need to lie in order to do so."
Many Republicans, led by Sen. John McCain of Arizona, argue that it would be a mistake for the military to undergo a major cultural change while the nation is fighting two wars.

Implementation of any new policy should begin "when our singular focus is no longer on combat operations or preparing units for combat," said Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon of California, top Republican on the Armed Services Committee.

The issue also has split the military. Gates and other senior military leaders support lifting the restrictions on gay service, pointing to a recent Pentagon study showing that most people in uniform don't object to serving with gays. But the head of the Marine Corps, Commandant Gen. James Amos, repeated his opposition this week, saying that lifting the ban during wartime could cost lives.

"I don't want to lose any Marines to the distraction," Amos said.

The White House, in a statement in support of repeal, stressed that the change would go into effect only after the president, the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify that implementation is consistent with military readiness, recruiting and retention and unit cohesion.

Joe Solmonese, the president of the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign, said Wednesday's vote means the House has confirmed for the second time what military leaders, most troops and the American public have been saying, that "the only thing that matters on the battlefield is the ability to do the job."

"It is up to the Senate to consign this failed and discriminatory law to the dustbin of history," Solmonese said.
The House, in introducing the stand-alone bill, sought to avoid the complications of combining it with a general defense bill. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., also promoted a stand-alone bill in the Senate. Supporters say they have the 60 votes for passage if they can get it to the Senate floor. 

"It is now the Senate's turn to take the final step toward overturning this discriminatory policy," Collins and Lieberman said in a statement. "We are out of excuses." 

A major hurdle has been a Republican pledge to block all legislation until the Senate completes work on tax cut and government funding. The Senate on Wednesday passed the compromise on extending tax cuts worked out by the White House and Republicans. 

More than 13,500 service members have been dismissed under the 1993 law. 

The Obama administration, while supporting the repeal, is appealing the ruling of a California federal judge that the ban on gays serving openly in the military is unconstitutional. The administration says Congress should overturn the policy. But gay rights groups say they will shift their focus back to the courts if Congress fails to act.
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The bill is H.R. 2965.
Online: http://thomas.loc.gov

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True, the Senate may not vote to repeal it, although I hope it does.  Senator John McCain and his merry band of anti-big government bigots (who ironically want the government involved on this issue) might get lucky and win the day.  And the courts might rule against it, but all of that is a formality.  Stopping the turns of history in democracies that necessitate extensions of rights to previously excluded groups is going to be, at most, a temporary stopgap.  It is not going to be permanent.  The fact a majority of Republicans and even self-described white Evangelicals support repealing the ban basically means that politically DADT is untenable.  It is going to be coming to an end.  It is just a matter of when.

Yes, I hope it is ending sooner, like this month, right now even, but there is a major cultural shift that is occurring with this country's attitudes toward members of the LGBT community and it is significant.  And if this trend continues, we will finally be fulfilling our claimed belief in equal treatment under the law on the issue of marriage, adoption rights, anti-discrimination and civil rights laws, etc., and it is a wonderful pattern for this country.

If only more of our issues moved this way, but I am certain of this much.  Within my lifetime, LGTB folk will be having state-recognized wedding ceremonies in the Bible belt.

UPDATE:  We won!  The Senate voted to lift the ban, 65-31.  This might seem symbolic but it is huge, considering what this same Senate has done (or refused to do) to/for 9/11 responders, people without health insurance, and immigrants in the past year.  It is nice that we finally won on one issue this session, and to those members of the LGTB community who will be afforded the chance to serve in our armed forces, hopefully, this is just the beginning of the drive for full and equal rights in this country.  It is long overdue.

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