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Topics In the News
 
Anniversary of DADT Repeal Approaches
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 09/17/12
Last updated on: 09/17/12
 
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Admiral Mike Mullen.

On September 18, 2012, a gala celebration aboard the USS Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum in New York City will mark the first anniversary of the repeal of the discriminatory Don't Ask, Don't Tell military policy. Sponsored by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), OutServe, and the Interbank Roundtable Committee (IRC), "Celebrating Our Heroes: A Tribute to America's Service Members & Veterans," will be emceed by Barbara Walters and will feature remarks by former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, who played a significant role in the repeal process.

The September 18 celebration will be the first in a series of events hosted by SLDN and OutServe across the country during the week to commemorate the first year of open service by America's gay and lesbian service members.

On September 20, 2011, the U.S. military policy that prohibited the service of openly gay men and women officially ended. In effect since 1993, Don't Ask, Don't Tell was responsible for curtailing the military careers of more than 14,000 American servicemembers and causing psychological damage to many more. The policy forced gay men and lesbians in the military to live in constant fear of exposure as they served under the threat of losing their jobs should their sexual orientation become known.

The cost to American taxpayers of discharging openly gay servicemembers under DADT is estimated at some half a billion dollars. But the cost to military effectiveness and governmental integrity was probably even more staggering.

As proponents of ending DADT pointed out, the ban promoted a hostile working environment, wasted crucial resources on unnecessary investigations, and forced many qualified service members to leave the military, depriving the military of many needed talents.

Moreover, by officially enforcing discrimination, the policy contradicted the democratic values the military is supposed to protect.

On February 2, 2010, at a key moment in the debate over repealing DADT, Admiral Mullen told a Congressional committee that the policy forced members of the military to violate the honor code by lying: "I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens," he said in 2010, adding, "For me, personally, it comes down to integrity--theirs as individuals, ours as an institution."

Admiral Mullen's framing of the issue as a matter of integrity was crucial to winning the support of the military for a change of direction. Hence, it is altogether fitting that he should be honored at the celebration on September 18.

The struggle to end the odious policy was long and frustrating. Central to its success were organizations such as the Palm Center and SLDN; military activists such as Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer, Lieutenant Dan Choi, Captain Jim Pietrangelo, Captain Tanya Domi, Captain Mike Almy, Sergeant Justin Elzie, Major Margaret Witt, Lt. Colonel Victor Fehrenbach, and Servicemembers United Executive Director Alexander Nicholson, among many others; as well as such politicians as Representative Patrick Murphy and Senators Joseph Lieberman and Carl Levin.

Repeal is now counted among the signal successes of President Obama's first term. It is well to remember, however, that he and his administration had to be prodded and almost forced to do the right thing.

At various times in the torturous journey to repeal, many suspected that the President and Secretary of Defense Gates were not acting in good faith, or at least that their timetable lacked urgency. Glbtq activists realized that if Congress did not act before the end of 2010, there simply would not be the votes in Congress to achieve repeal.

It is equally important to remember that Republican senators, including especially Senator John McCain, repeatedly filibustered against repeal and made absurd predictions about the disastrous consequences repeal would have for military readiness and cohesion.

Finally, in the lame duck session of December 2010, the Senate filibuster was broken. On December 18, 2010, the bill authorizing repeal passed on a vote of 65 to 31, with 57 Democrats and 8 Republicans voting in favor and 31 Republicans voting against repeal. The bill, having already been passed in the House of Representatives, was sent to the President for his signature.

The bill did not itself repeal the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Act. Rather, it authorized repeal, contingent on certification of the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs that ending the policy would not negatively affect military readiness. Once that certification was issued, the law authorized the Pentagon to put in place any necessary regulations to ensure an orderly transition. The DADT policy would remain in effect for 60 days after the certification.

On July 22, 2011, the White House announced that President Obama, Secretary of Defense Panetta, and Chair of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mullen had certified that the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell would not negatively affect military readiness or unit cohesion.

To mark the official end of Don't Ask, Don't Tell on September 20, 2011, the White House issued a statement by President Obama and a video featuring gay and lesbian veterans who served under DADT.

President Obama declared that "Today, the discriminatory law known as 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is finally and formally repealed. As of today, patriotic Americans in uniform will no longer have to lie about who they are in order to serve the country they love. As of today, our armed forces will no longer lose the extraordinary skills and combat experience of so many gay and lesbian service members. And today, as Commander in Chief, I want those who were discharged under this law to know that your country deeply values your service."

He added, "For more than two centuries, we have worked to extend America's promise to all our citizens. Our armed forces have been both a mirror and a catalyst of that progress, and our troops, including gays and lesbians, have given their lives to defend the freedoms and liberties that we cherish as Americans. Today, every American can be proud that we have taken another great step toward keeping our military the finest in the world and toward fulfilling our nation's founding ideals."


 
 
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