Sunday, December 19, 2010

DADT Repeal Clears Senate...A Guarded Celebration

Last week, the Senate killed a vote to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. 

But today, after clearing some procedural hurdles, the Senate finally voted to repeal that 1993 law which allows gay military personnel to serve as long as they hide their sexuality, but allows the military to discharge openly gay servicepeople.

The vote is an historic one, and President Obama will sign the legislation into law.

After listening to years of debate and philosophical discussion, after fighting for repeal, and after the disbelief with which we watched the political wrangling on this issue,why didn't the news of the repeal feel more like a victory?

I AM happy that this step was taken.  And yet, I don't find myself engaged in unbridled celebration. Not yet.

Because after today's bit of political theater, (the results of which were delivered on Saturday when most people are not paying much attention to the news), Don't Ask Don't Tell is STILL enforceable.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, in a statement, that he'll "approach this process deliberately, (making changes) only after careful consultation with the military service chiefs and our combatant commanders...
Gates warned that court challenges to "don't ask, don't tell" could force an abrupt repeal of the policy, rather than the process in the legislation that would allow the military to manage the change on a longer timetable.
(From CNN Politics Wire Staff)

So the repeal wouldn’t take effect immediately. Obama, Gates, and Joint Chiefs chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, would have to certify to Congress that they have reviewed the Pentagon report on the impacts of repeal, that the Defense Department is prepared to implement repeal and that doing so would not harm military readiness, troop morale, and recruiting and retention.
 The policy would be repealed 60 days after the president submits the document.

Before that document is submitted, the timetable for the certification process has "yet to be determined".

"It is therefore important that our men and women in uniform understand that while today's historic vote means that this policy will change, the implementation and certification process will take an additional period of time,” Gates said in a statement. “In the meantime, the current law and policy will remain in effect...."

And so, we have yet another "certification" process of undetermined length.  What is unclear to me is what could happen if Congress decides not to accept the review presented by Obama, Gates and Mullen; or if  the Defense Department somehow determines that there are sticking points in its implementation of repeal. 

In the meantime, military personnel can still be discharged for coming out of the closet. 

But suppose a U.S. District Court Judge, like Virginia Phillips back in October, issues another injunction that the law is STILL unconstitutional?  Will the Obama administration once again be obliged to defend the law until the certification and implementation are in place, plus 60 days? 

I would love to see a judge take up this legal issue...

In the end, there is hope that the last bastion of institutionalized homophobia will divest itself of its irrational prejudice and continue to function better than ever. When I allowed myself to fantasize about this day, I thought it would be a seismic reaction, with ticker tape parades, world news bulletins, and immediate repeal.

Let's hope that cynicism has not prevailed.  Let's hope that the repeal of this bill is a sincere movement toward real change, and not simply a desperate effort to score political points before the advent of a new conservative Congress.  Let's hope that a new congress will not find a legal or procedural way to undo this work.

1 comment:

  1. Hear hear. DADT is an appalling policy (worse than an outright ban, in my opinion) and the sooner it is removed the better.