As of December 18, the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy which prevented openly gay soldiers from serving in the US military was finally overturned. Prior to the DADT legislation, gays were barred from serving in the military altogether.
During the 1992 presidential election, presidential hopeful Bill Clinton campaigned on abolishing discriminatory laws that prevented gays from joining the military.
Unfortunately, Reagan made social conservatism sexy in the 80s and Bush Senior managed to keep its flame flickering into the 90s; American lawmakers just weren’t ready to let gays fight and die for their country like everybody else 18 years and older. As a result, DADT was implemented by President Clinton in 1993 as a compromise between equality and bigotry.
DADT allowed gays to serve in the military so long as their sexual orientation was not revealed. If they were discovered to be gay, they could be, and usually were discharged from the service.
Since DADT went into effect in 1994, over 13,000 gays were discharged from various branches of the military. Three years ago, 28 retired generals and admirals urged the US Congress to repeal the policy, citing evidence that some 65,000 gay men and women are currently serving in the armed forces and that there are more than one million gay veterans.
Today, nearly 70 per cent of American citizens approve repealing DADT. This is impressive, considering that this is America we’re talking about, home of the 700 Club and Sarah Palin.
Since he was elected in 2008, President Barack Obama has promised to repeal DADT. Both Obama and the Democrats that controlled both the House and the Senate until a few days ago have been taking their sweet time getting around to that promise. This is largely the fault of Obama’s inextinguishable need for consensus amongst both parties. Instead of pushing through a repeal of the overtly discriminatory legislation, Obama decided to strive for a consensus with the Joint Chiefs’ of Staff and Pentagon about the proposed repeal before he brought the issue to both Houses of Congress.
So for the past two years, there has been endless debate as to whether or not denying employment to American citizens based on their sexual orientation is a good thing. As it turns out, (surprise, surprise,) it is not. The US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates went before Congress last month to urge them to repeal DADT legislation. Gates had issued a memorandum that required a comprehensive review of issues associated with the repeal of DADT, including a survey of 400,000 service members and 150,000 military spouses.
The results showed that the majority of military personnel said a repeal would not have a negative effect on military morale. It’s great that the military supports the repeal but even if they didn’t, the military should be the last sanctuary of the tried and true axiom, “just do as your told.” Soldiers are supposed to follow orders without question. Since they’ve already been asked to risk their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq, I’m sure making them fight alongside soldiers who are fans of Margret Cho is more than do-able (though anyone who has spent time listen to Ms. Cho’s comedy knows that a choice between that and war isn’t an easy one to make.)
However, it still saddens me that repealing DADT is considered “progressive” in 2010. This type of legislation belongs in a distant past, one that the people of 2010 should view not with disdain alone, but through fuzzy, nostalgic memories of another time. I guess progress is a slow process. Maybe 150 years from now, the great-great-grandchildren of the proponents of DADT will re-enact their ancestors’ fight to deny rights to American citizens based on their sexual orientations, just like the Southerners who dress up as Confederate soldiers today.
Maybe they could even convince themselves that their ancestors were “brave patriots” that “fought for the American way.” I can only speculate that by that time, some decades or centuries down the road, those who so vigorously fought to uphold such a shameful and embarrassing practice, just as the Confederates did with slavery, will be so blatantly on the wrong side of history.