It is a strange tale, this path to repeal. Instead of being a straightforward story where the government recognizes a wrong and rights it, we find ourselves in a looking-glass world. A world where an administration that wanted the policy gone demanded that legislation ending it not be passed; where a President vowing to end the policy found himself the target of enraged protests by activists who had previously worked to see his administration voted into office; and a world where the Department of Justice chose to continue to defend an admittedly unjust policy ruled unconstitutional.
On Tuesday, September 20th, 2011, the statute known as Don't Ask, Don't Tell will no longer be the law of the United States. This should mark a triumphal day for an administration currently besieged by bad economic and political news. After all, no other major legislation or policy the administration has pushed has come close to being as popular as the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. The last poll taken before Congress took its vote (ABC/WaPo) showed that 77% of Americans supported open service! Yet the administration has yet to indicate that it is recognizing its victory.
Q: As a follow-up, does the President have any plans to, in any way, memorialize the end of "don't ask, don't tell" on September 20th?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have a scheduling update for you on that.
What to make of this I do not know.
But to the story! Were this tale to be told in full we would be here far beyond September 20th, so I will not begin back in 1993 when the law was proposed, but where I took notice. And I will tell the tale not with regard to how history will write it -- others will take care of that -- but how I saw it unfold, from the perch of my desk chair advocating for repeal with keystrokes on the backpages of Daily Kos.
My timeline -- the events that moved me -- you will find herein at the end. The tale itself will be told over four diaries. The next two should be published later today.
I. The Ecstasy and the Agony.
II. Protests and Handcuffs and Senators, Oh My!
III. The Agony and the Ecstasy.
IV. All Servicemembers Are Now Equal. Sort Of.
The Ecstasy and the Agony
The President-elect's woes, such as they are, with advocates for equality began with this statement, made on December 18th, 2008.
"It is not a secret that I am a fierce advocate for equality for gay and lesbian Americans."
Obama's most quoted statement on LGBT rights, this was in response to his having selected controversial Pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at the President's Inauguration. Perhaps it helped quell the furor over Warren, but by claiming title to "fierce advocate" the President bore the responsibility to live up to that pledge. For many those words, so encouraging to hear back then, turned to heartbreak not so long after.
As the President-elect prepared to take office, no one knew quite what would happen. Barack Obama, candidate, surely had pledged to do something about Don't Ask, Don't Tell, but would he keep his word? After all, candidate Clinton had come in with the same promises and that did not end well.
And so it was that I watched with wild elation on January 12th, 2009 as Robert Gibbs, soon to be White House Press Secretary, said with absolute certainly that the administration would "get rid of the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy." "Yes". "Nailed it!" I thought. To me this didn't mean in two and a half years; it didn't even mean in six months. It meant that on or a few days after January 20th, 2009, the President would order the military to stop this horrible policy, and then worry about how to get Congress to repeal the law. Never was I so wrong, nor so crestfallen.
Which leads us directly to someone else who was surely far more disappointed. On March 19th, 2009, after two months in which the White House has given no indication that it was moving on DADT repeal, Lieutenant Daniel Choi "came out" on the Rachel Maddow Show.
By saying "I am gay" on national television, Choi both brought national attention to the "odious" policy that went against "everything we were taught" and brought down on him the wrath of his military command, resulting in his eventual dismissal under Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
Less than two months later on May 3, 2009, in an almost unnoticed decision, the Obama Administration took what might have been its first concrete step -- perhaps knowingly, perhaps unknowingly (or, dare I say, unwittingly) -- towards dismantling DADT. The Department of Justice decided not to appeal the decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Witt v Air Force.
That ruling held that discharges under Don't Ask, Don't Tell were subject to heightened scrutiny, and therefore Major Witt's dismissal in 2007 from the Air Force was not necessarily constitutional. This caused the case to be sent back to Federal District Court in Washington State, where a judge would conduct a trial a year later holding that Major Witt has been illegally dismissed. The Ninth's ruling in Witt was part of the basis for a decision a little more than a year later that Don't Ask, Don't Tell was in and of itself unconstitutional -- but I am getting ahead of myself.
For the next six months -- until December of 2009 -- nothing I remember as noteworthy DADTwise happened. The healthcare debate dominated the political airwaves while marriage equality awaited its temporary doom in Maine and New York. And then the President made his move.
Next: Protests and, Handcuffs and Senators, Oh My!
2008 & 2009
Dec 18, 2008: President-elect Obama: "I am a fierce advocate for equality for gay and lesbian Americans"
Jan 12, 2009: "Is the new administration going to get rid of the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy?" Robert Gibbs, Press Secretary to President-elect Obama: "Yes."
Jan 20, 2009: President Obama is inaugurated.
Mar 19, 2009: Lieutenant Dan Choi 'comes out' on Rachel Maddow show.
May 3, 2009: The Department of Justice decides not to appeal Witt, leaving the status of Don't Ask, Don't Tell in the jurisdiction of the Ninth Circuit unclear and paving the way for Log Cabin Republicans v United States.
Jun - Nov, 2009: Nothing much happens.
Dec 31, 2009: 443 servicemembers were discharged because of DADT in 2009.
January, 2010 - May, 2010
Jan 20010: Rumors circulate that the President will call for the repeal of DADT in his State of the Union address.
Jan 27, 2010: President Obama says in his State of the Union speech that he he will work with Congress and the military "this year" to repeal DADT. "It's the right thing to do."
Feb 2, 2010: Admiral Mullen testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Mar 17, 2010: GetEqual is formed by Robin McGehee and Kip Williams.
Mar 18, 2010: Dan Choi and discharged veteran Dan Petrangelo chain themselves to White House fence protesting DADT.
Mar 25, 2010: Defense Secretary Gates announces new, stricter rules for discharging under DADT.
Apr 6, 2010: Defense Secretary Gates announces a 'year long' study on the effects of DADT repeal, to be led by Jeh Johnson and General Ham.
Apr 12, 2010: Senator McCaskill announces her support for the DADT repeal amendment in the Defense Authorization bill before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Apr 16, 2010: Senator Hagan announces her support for DADT repeal.
Apr 20, 2010: Choi, Petrangelo, Sandeen, Boyd, Thomas, and Whitt chain themselves to White House fence.
Apr 30th, 2010: Defense Secretary Gates, via a letter, tells Congress not to vote on repeal until the Working Group study is complete.
May 25, 2010: Bill Nelson announces his support for DADT repeal.
May 26, 2010: Senator Byrd supports DADT repeal with a 60-day delay after certification.
May 27, 2010: The Senate Armed Services Committee passes the Defense Authorization Bill, containing the DADT Repeal amendment.
June, 2010 - December, 2010
Jul 13, 2010: The Log Cabin Republicans v United States trial begins.
Jul 23, 2010: Closing arguments are heard in Log Cabin Republicans v United States
Jul 24, 2010: At Netroots Nation, Harry Reid receives Dan Choi's ring.
Sep 9, 2010: Federal District Judge Virginia Phillips rules that Don't Ask, Don't Tell is unconstitutional.
Sep 21, 2010: The US Senate cannot get sixty votes for cloture on the Defense Authorization Bill; DADT repeal prospects look grim.
Sep 24, 2010: Major Witt wins her lawsuit; Judge Leighton orders her reinstated into the Air Force.
Oct 12, 2010: Judge Phillips issues a worldwide injunction against DADT enforcement.
Oct 20, 2010: The Ninth Circuit grants the US Government a stay of Judge Phillips' injunction.
Oct 31, 2010: Secretary Gates announces that only the Secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force will have the power to authorize discharges of gay servicemembers henceforth.
Nov 15, 2010: Dan Choi Robin McGehee and 11 others, including Scott Wooledge (clarknt67) chain themselves to White House fence under the auspices of GetEqual.
Nov 30, 2010: The Department of Defense study on DADT repeal is released.
Nov 30, 2010: Secretary Gates calls on Congress to repeal DADT.
Dec 9, 2010: The US Senate again fails to get cloture on the Defense Authorization bill.
Dec 10, 2010: Senator Gillibrand introduces a standalone DADT repeal bill.
Dec 15, 2010: The House passes standalone DADT repeal bill.
Dec 18, 2010: The Senate passes a standalone DADT repeal bill.
Dec 22, 2010: President Obama signs the bill which will lead to the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell into law.
Dec 22, 2010: Harry Reid gives Dan Choi his ring back.
Dec 31, 2010: 261 discharges in 2010.
Jul 6, 2011: The Department of Justice releases its brief in Golinski, stating that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional and that gays and lesbians are entitled to heightened scrutiny.
Jul 6, 2011: The Ninth Circuit reinstates Judge Phillips' injunction, preventing discharges.
Jul 15, 2011: The Ninth Circuit partially reinstates DADT, forbidding dismissals but not preventing recruiters from turning away openly gay potential enlistees.
Jul 22, 2011: The repeal certification letter required by the DADT repeal law is signed by President Obama, Secretary Panetta, and Admiral Mullen. In sixty days DADT will be no more.
Sep 1, 2011: The Department of Justice continues to defend the constitutionality of DADT in a hearing before the Ninth Circuit in Log Cabin Republicans v United States.
Sep 20, 2011: Don't Ask, Don't Tell is formally removed from the laws of the United States.
Sep 21, 2011: 13650 total discharges due to Don't Ask, Don't Tell.