Progressives too are inclined to want to declare "Victory," but this is neither progress nor is it a victory. Should it pass, it will only bring us back to the legal construct of 1992, not move us forward.
Congress may pass a measure that maybe, just might, someday lead to repeal of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. If the Pentagon agrees.
If this amendment is attached to the Military Defense Authorization Act it will reach a final vote around October 2010. If it passes into law, the DADT policy will still stay in place. Sometime in December 2010 a study will be returned, and at that time, Pentagon will look at the results.
Then they may draw up new regulations deciding the fate of LGB soldiers in our Armed Forces. They could be progressive and affirming. They could be draconian and regressive. Today's measure offers no guidance and no assurances. Nor is there any Congressional oversight or input.
And news broke yesterday evening that Pentagon Joint Chief of Staff Chair Michael Mullen is speaking in terms of repeal as being optional, not mandatory.
Changes made will be entirely at the Pentagon's discretion. And there is absolutely no guarantee they will change the policy at all. In fact, Joint Chief of Staff Michael Mullen hinted at that yesterday at the Department of Defense's own website:
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo., May 27, 2010 – The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said yesterday that he’s comfortable with proposed legislation that seeks to repeal the law that bans gay men and lesbians from serving openly in the military because it includes “very clear language” that gives senior leaders the final say in whether it’s implemented.
After reviewing results of the study, Mullen, the service chiefs and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates would provide their recommendations to President Barack Obama. “So having that information will inform me and our leaders about what our recommendations will be,” he said.
Mullen called the “certification trigger” provided in the proposed amendment critical. “The language in there right now preserves my prerogative – and I believe, my responsibility – to give the best military advice,” he said.
“That trigger is to certify whether we should move ahead with that change, even if the law were to repeal it,” he told a reporter following the session.
Mullen brought up the issue at the end of his town hall session after no one had asked about it. He occasionally gets questions about it when he meets with servicemembers, the chairman told reporters traveling with him, but just as often doesn’t. “I haven’t found it to be a particularly burning issue,” he said.
That he chose the word "whether" is certainly cause for concern about his true commitment to actually delivering a full repeal, in my opinion. There is at this point, no guarantee "whether" repeal happens. Nothing in today's action by Congress mandates that repeal take place. The LGB servicemembers have been left by Congress, and our community's lobbying groups solely at the mercy of the goodwill of the Pentagon. I hope that works out well for them. I personally am skeptical the Pentagon can be trusted to do the right thing by our LGB troops, as they never have in the past.
Legal scholar and Clinton White House advisor Richard Socarides concludes that this action, rather than repeal merely conveys authority to Obama, Gates and Mullen to repeal at their discretion. As Chris Geidner at Metroweekly reports:
''As far as I can tell, the proposed legislation instead makes repeal conditional on a future discretionary certification which may or may not occur. . . . [I]t is not repeal with delayed implementation. It's conditional future repeal.''
Ohio State Moritz College of Law professor Steven Huefner says his analysis squares with Socrarides:
After reviewing the language, and although he noted it was only a preliminary review, Huefner agreed. To reach this conclusion, he pointed to the discretion given to the executive branch as a sign that the language does make repeal of 10 U.S.C. Section 654 – the law underlying the DADT policy – conditional.
''Congress is giving to the executive branch the choice to decide the moment when the repeal is to happen,'' he said. ''The bill gives the executive the power to say not only when, but whether, the conditions set forth in the effective date section exist.''
So, it will all be in Obama's court now. He may try to obfuscate his responsibility. He may say, there are delays and problems at the Pentagon and other things. But, Harry Truman already told us where the buck stops. The other two people in the process, Gates and Mullen, work for Obama, they are not his colleagues, they are his subordinates. If they are not following his lead, we can conclude, the fault lies with Obama's leadership.
Though many of LGBT advocacy groups may be claiming victory on this development, the community is not unanimous in agreeing. Many grassroots activists and spokepeople have expressed skepticism and dissatification. Pam Spaulding of Pam's House Blend has said:
The President hands over approval of repeal to the Pentagon in essence, again, contingent on such subjective analysis of the potential effect of openly gay and lesbian service members, and they are already serving, mind you, coming out to claim their right to serve as equals to their heterosexual colleagues in the most basic of rights.
One of the things I find curious and predictable is the very shallow analysis of this by purported progressive allies who don't want to dig deep to see the gory details affecting human beings serving and fighting for this country that might ruin the shine on the President's crown.
John Aravois of Americablog has summarized the compromise as:
Current policy will remain in place until the above conditions are satisfied. And if the above conditions are never satisfied, the current DADT policy will remain in place.
There is nothing in the legislation that says the repeal must happen.
The posterboy for the repeal DADT movement, Lt. Dan Choi has been very outspoken that this "compromise"—reached with the administration in exchange for their lukewarm support, finally delivered Monday by staffer Peter Orszag— is not acceptable. Today Choi, released a statement:
"In response to the United States Senate and the House of Representatives voting on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, forces are mobilizing for non-violent direct action and civil disobedience. Veterans are ready to spend Memorial Weekend in prison. Fasting will also commence. The simple demands are:
- End DADT firings.
- Enact non-discrimination.
- End the insulting, wasteful study.
The community knows that the President does have within his power to end the discharges immediately. The President has not responded authentically in ending the firings and inherent discrimination. This has set into place a call to action that can no longer be ignored. It is going to met with the same degree of seriousness that it brought on the lives of those living under DADT. It is a matter of life or death which will be honored through civil disobedience and fasting. This is a formidable call to conscience which invites all to stand in Equality and Dignity."
I applaud this response. Choi's mission, our movement's mission has coalesced around the goal of "Full Equality Now!" Some may call his response ungrateful. But the irony is, if you truly believe, in your heart and soul, that LGBT Americas deserve full equality, that they have a right, endowed by our Constitution and our Creator, to full equality, then there is nothing nothing one need be "grateful" or "ungrateful" for. One is not obliged to be grateful for something to which you have a right. Our rights are not granted by Congress or the oligarchy, nor are our rights decreed by Courts or Presidents. They are our rights. We own them. They are being taken from us against our will. Our community has been asking for them for decades. Many are no longer asking. The verb Choi used was "demand."
I commend him for demanding, as would Frederick Douglass who said:
Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.
Ask yourself, before you condemn, what exactly obligates our community to "compromise" on the issue of our equality?
And this this bill, though a timid step towards delivering them, is still a tool of denial, of stall, of kicking the can down the road. It was a cowardly political maneuver designed to placate an increasingly noisy, angry and frustrated voting and donation bloc. Its aim was not motivated by a desire to deliver justice or equality to our troops or the LGBT community. And I am glad our community has found a leader that speaks the truth, that has his eye on the prize and is not afraid to be uncompromising in this pursuit.
Equality is like pregnancy, you either are equal or your aren't.
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Todays letter to the President is from retired Two-Star General Vance Coleman. Though it is too late to engage the President in the process of passing this bill, I hope he'll still read it and contemplate his responsibility to shepherd it the process to full repeal and affirmation of our LGB troops' right to be treated with respect and serve with honor and integrity.
Today's Letter: "The message was clear: It did not matter that I was qualified to serve in a combat arms unit that happen to be all white. It only mattered that I was Black."
May 27, 2010
President Barack H. Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President,
I served my country for over thirty years. I enlisted in the army as a private and retired as a Major General. During that time, I saw a great deal of change in the Armed Forces. Racial segregation was ended in the ranks, women were recognized as equals and we moved to an all volunteer force.
My father was a laborer, my mother a domestic worker. I knew that there was no way I was headed for college. As a young Black Man I enlisted in the army long before President Truman desegregated the armed forces.
I served in segregated units (all Black) before being selected for Officers Candidate School. I then attended an integrated Leadership Academy and then Officers Candidate School which was also integrated. After graduation from OCS I was assigned to a combat arms unit for which I had been trained. I was reassigned to a service unit (Graves Registration) that was all Black.
The message was clear: It did not matter that I was qualified to serve in a combat arms unit that happen to be all white. It only mattered that I was Black.
Mr. President, I know what it is like to be thought of as second-class, and I know what it is like to have your hard work dismissed because of who you are or what you look like. I also know what a difference it made to me and others when President Truman eliminated segregation in the Armed Forces and placed qualification ahead of discrimination.
As a retired Army Commander, I also know how disruptive it is to remove a trained skilled member from a unit. In Korea, I had a Sergeant First Class in my unit who was gay. it was no secret. He was in charge of the unit’s communication. He was essential to our performance and our survival and he was dam good at his job. If I had to remove him, our unit’s effectiveness, as well as morale, most certainly would have been harmed.
Military leadership is about being able to constantly adapt to change, and I have seen the Army implement significant change and react to new directives since I enlisted. Perhaps the greatest military change is that we are now an all volunteer force. I cannot believe that we could have made that transition successfully if the services were still segregated or if the roles of women in the ranks had not been greatly expanded.
The services have, for the most part, kept pace with changes in American society as to matters of race and gender. Likewise, they must now keep pace with the changed attitude among the American people, especially younger generations, concerning sexual orientation. If they do not, military service will become a less viable option for more and more young people, and the quality of our forces will suffer. I suggest that the warriors of tomorrow will not want to become a part of an institution that does not respect their peers.
The men and women who volunteer to serve, especially in dangerous times, are the most important resource of our armed services. This includes the lesbian and gay troops who have served – and – are serving honorably. Just like their heterosexual service members, they risk their lives to defend our country. Our country owes it to them, and to all our troops to treat all who serve with respect and gratitude.
Our armed services believe in, and promote, the idea that one person can make a real difference. To commanders on the ground in Iraq, an Arabic linguist can make a difference. To a parent, whose son is bleeding on the battlefield, one lesbian nurse can make a difference.
You, too, Mr. President, can and will make a real difference here. You can make a difference in whether “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is repealed this year, and whether implementation comes shortly thereafter.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Mr. President, do all you can; stand with us and work with us to end this denigration of our American values.
Major General Vance Coleman
United States Army (Ret.)
United States Army
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Tomorrow I will run the last letter in this series that the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network will be forwarding. The series is likely to return as the final bill is voted on and this measure is sheparded through the conference committee. I hope it continues on, as discrimination, and discharges will continue on, probably for years. This bill voted on today offers no tangible benefits to the actual troops that are suffering. All responsibilty to address that will now be placed in the hands of Robert Gates, Michael Mullen and President Barack Obama. Pressure must continue to ensure those three men do the right thing by our LGB servicemembers, and do not allow this fight to have been in vain.
The final letter will be a love letter uncovered from one World War II soldier to another soldier. SLDN obtained special permission to run the letter in this series. I'm sure it will be an interesting letter, please be sure to watch for it.
Speaking for myself, thank you for all the recs, comments, and support that helped put this issue on the radar. The LGBT's community's invisibility, both self-imposed and thrust upon us by an apathetic and dismissive majority, is our community's worst enemy.
Update: SLDN has identified these House members as key votes leaning no:
Jim Costa (D-CA) 202-225-3341
Jerry Costello (D-IL) 202-225-5661
Harry Mitchell (D-AZ) 202-225-2190
Gene Green (D-TX) 202-225-1688
John Salazar (D-CO) 202-225-4761
UPDATE 2: The Bill has passed the Senate Armed Services Committee, and will be attached to the Military Defense Authorization Bill.
WASHINGTON – Today the Senate Armed Services Committee voted 16-12 to repeal the failed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law. This historic action is the first time Congress has ever taken a vote to repeal the ban on openly lesbian and gay service members in its nearly 17 year history.
I am not happy with the bill. I am happy that the LGBT community is not saddled with a loss. Maybe it will bring some bravery to our leaders. This is a win for the LGBT community and pretty much our community alone. Democracy for America and Courage Campaign the only mainstream progressive groups who joined us in the fight.
Chris Geidner of Metro Weekly has tweeted:
BREAKING Multiple sources now reporting that House #DADT amendment vote is likely tonight, within hours. #lgbt
Stay tuned for more fun. BTW, Barb on the Front page is telling me she "respects my opinion" but asserts Senate voted for repeal. No matter what the legislation says.
Chris Geidner again 8:03 pm:
Rep. Murphy confirms: "In the next 15-30 mins, Murphy will offer his amendment to repeal #DADT on the floor of the U.S. House."
The House amendment just passed. Now let's make Obama, Gates and Mullen do it.
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