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Efforts to Repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Continue

The lengthy campaign to repeal the law barring gay men and lesbians from serving openly in the military, commonly referred to as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), may be nearing a successful conclusion. On May 27, 2010, the full House of Representatives approved Representative Patrick Murphy’s (D-PA) amendment that would repeal DADT to H.R. 5136, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011, by a vote of 234–194. The following day, the Senate Armed Services Committee passed a similar amendment to its version of the bill by a vote of 16–12.[1] The full Senate is expected to vote on the legislation later this summer.

In both measures, DADT would remain in effect until after the Pentagon’s Comprehensive Review Working Group releases its findings on what effects repealing DADT may have on the military, including implementation of the repeal, such as housing for same-sex couples and the likelihood that gay and lesbian servicemembers who do reveal their sexuality may face harassment. The Working Group must complete its assessment by December 1, 2010. In addition, in order for a repeal to be implemented, President Barack Obama, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen must certify that repealing DADT is “consistent with military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion & recruiting,” and that the Department of Defense has “has prepared the necessary policies and regulations to implement its repeal.”[2]
While the current effort to repeal DADT began in earnest when President Obama included the repeal as one of his priorities in his 2010 State of the Union address, the compromise included in both the House and Senate bill was crafted rather abruptly by members of Congress, representatives of the Obama administration, and military leaders. Congressional leaders of the effort included Representative Murphy, a veteran of the war in Iraq, and Senators Joseph Lieberman (I–CT) and Carl Levin (D–MI) who strongly supported including the repeal in the bill to authorize the budget for the Department of Defense, despite the fact that consideration of the bill would predate the release of the Working Group’s report, which will occur after the congressional elections in November. Proponents of repeal fear that the repeal will be less likely to pass if the Democrats, who represent the lion’s share of legislators opposed to DADT, lose seats in the upcoming election. Many military leaders, however, questioned the wisdom of repealing DADT before the Working Group has completed its task, which includes soliciting input and opinions of current servicemembers and their families. In a letter requested by Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the leading opponent of repealing DADT, General George W. Casey Jr., the Army chief of staff, expressed concern that “repealing the law before the completion of the review will be seen by the men and women of the Army as a reversal of our commitment to hear their views before moving forward.”[3] Admiral Mullen, by contrast, is “comfortable with the proposed legislation because it preserves the right for the president, the defense secretary and himself to certify whether the new law could go into effect.”[4]
While the repeal of DADT is progressing through Congress, conditions for gay men and lesbians serving in the military have improved marginally. When considering whether or not to act on an allegation that a servicemember is a gay or lesbian individual, investigators now “will generally ignore anonymous complaints and make those who file them give statements under oath,” and only officers with the rank of one-star general or above will be empowered to open an inquiry or order a discharge.[5] Although these are positive developments, it is imperative that gay and lesbian servicemembers remain cognizant that they are still at risk of discharge until the repeal is actually implemented and, accordingly, must continue to conceal their sexual orientation.
“SIECUS strongly supports the efforts to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ as it is a failed, discriminatory policy that is detrimental to our national security,” comments Jen Heitel Yakush, director of public policy at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. “We applaud those legislators who have fought tenaciously for repeal, and look forward to the time when all people willing to serve their country are given that opportunity, regardless of their sexual orientation.”

[1] “Historic Votes Are Cast, but Hurdles Remain for Ending ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’,” Washington Post, 29 May 2010, accessed 22 June 2010, <>.

[2] U.S. House of Representatives. 111th Congress, “Amendment 672 to H.R. 5136, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011,” 2010, accessed 22 June 2010, <|/home/LegislativeData.php?n=BSS;c=111>.

[3] Elizabeth Bumiller, “Service Chiefs Seek to Delay Vote on Gays,” New York Times, 26 May 2010, accessed 22 June 2010, <,%20don%27t%20tell&st=cse>.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Craig Whitlock, “Pentagon Restricts Evidence That Can Be Used against Gays in Military,” Washington Post, 26 May 2010, accessed 22 June 2010, <>.