No One Wants “Don’t Ask – Don’t Tell”

This article is the opinion of the author and may not necessarily reflect the opinions of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin

Timothy Kincaid

July 23rd, 2008

The “Don’t Ask – Don’t Tell” policy was a 1993 compromise between those who favored an all-out ban on gay service persons and those who favored a fully inclusive Military. It wasn’t much liked by either side at the time and is still not popular with either gays or anti-gays.

The anti-gay most visible on this issue is Elaine Donnelly, one of the two anti-gays scheduled to speak today in Congressional Hearings on the issue. Donnelly has long been opposed to the Don’t Ask – Don’t Tell compromise and claims that it is actually contrary to the wording of the law passed in 1993. Donnelly’s position is that there are no provisions for “not asking” and that therefore the Military should have a restrictive ban including witch-hunt efforts.

To reinforce that idea, anti-gays were passing out buttons today that said “Keep the LAW, not the DADT policy.”

What then are the likely outcomes of the hearings?

Return to a full ban on all gay servicepersons.
The arguments of Elaine Donnelly are a bit limited. They cannot rely on studies, comparison to other nations, or any other tangible evidence.

Donnelly has to rely on two arguments: that gays are icky, and that heterosexuals don’t want to be around gay people. Because of this, she claims, the Military would be harmed by allowing gay persons to serve openly.

Because gays are icky, other service persons would be distracted from their job. And because heterosexuals don’t want to be around gay people, they won’t sign up for service.

While these claims do speak to the issue of open v. closeted service, neither of these arguments is particularly germane to a return to a ban. And because a return to a full ban would likely be seen by the public as homophobic and hateful, there is not likely to be much of a push in this direction.

Retain Don’t Ask – Don’t Tell
This is the Military’s position, as expressed to the chairman of the hearings. However, the Military did not send anyone to the hearings to articulate that position. Further, they told the chairman that they would abide by congressional orders.

Since the termination of Joint Chairman Peter Pace, the opinions coming from the Pentegon about DADT have been tepid at most. The impression, to me at least, is that while the Military dislikes change in general, no one is fired up to keep DADT in place.

Retaining DADT is also the default position of John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for President. However, McCain’s support is couched in language that suggests a less-than-solid support for this position. Rather than state this position as his own, he defers to “senior military leaders”.

However, although there are few voices articulating support for the status quo, a position difficult to champion in either idealogical terms, this is by far the safest position for conservative or moderate legislators or either party.

Yes, the citizenry has come to the position where they want open service. And very few Senators or Congressmen openly state that gay servicepersons are incapable of serving their country well. But anti-gay sentiment is more more deeply felt than tolerance and while Americans don’t favor the policy, they aren’t rising up to demand its repeal.

As long as this issue is not brought up for a vote, no one needs to go on record as either opposing the Military, the populace, gay activists, or rightwing activists. Which probably explains why there has been no movement on this issue for 16 years in either Republican or Democratic controlled Congresses.

However, non-action may not be an option for much longer. Supporter in both parties are more vocal in their efforts to overturn this example of institutionalized discrimination. And the Congressional Hearings may indicate a willingness by Democratic Party leadership to allow Congress to readdress the issue.

As public opinion has shifted so far in favor of fully repealing the ban, and as more and more persons of expertise and experience have come to question is effectivity, legislators may find that they will need to take a stand and sooner rather than later.

Repealing the ban
This is the position favored by the citizens, a position that seems to cut across demographics.

It is also the position that seems to be enhanced with each new study, review, commentary, and observation. Over the past few years, a great many individuals and institutions that had been in opposition to full and open service have come to either reverse their thinking or to allow for reconsideration.

Most Democrats in Congress would find it difficult to vote to retain DADT. Even conservative pro-Military ex-servicemen Blue Dog Democrats like Congessman Patrick Murphy are skeptical about claims that servicemen are incapable of serving with their openly gay fellows.

Additionally, many Republican Congressmen will be hesitant to be seen to be too far out of the mainstream on this issue. As a majority of Republican voters favor lifting the ban, only the idealogues, or those who fear conservative activists, will feel pressured to take an anti-gay stance that is not popular with their constituents. Further, some Republicans may see this as a way to counterbalance their anti-marriage stance and appear reasonable and mainstream to the all-important Independent voters.

Although it may be a bit optimistic, I predict that a vote would result in nearly all Democrats favoring a reversal of the policy joined by a respectable number of Republicans.

Becoming Law
The question is whether new legislation allowing for open service would be signed by the President into law.

Were such a bill to pass under the current administration, I think it likely that President Bush would use his veto. Although this has been a President hesitant to veto legislation, he seems to make exceptions for law that would put gay citizens on an equal footing.

I think it also extremely likely that a President Obama would not hesitate to sign. He has been open in his support for gay servicepersons.

The question, at least to me, would be what a President McCain would do. Although he has spoken against changing policy, he has done so in a passive way, deferring to the expertise of others and avoiding taking a personal idealogical position. With enough Republican support, McCain might announce that “senior military advisors” don’t see the change in policy to be detrimental to Military effectiveness or unit cohesion and sign the bill. Alternately, he might feel endebted to the rightwing and might veto. At this point, I don’t think I can predict his action.

Richard W. Fitch

July 23rd, 2008

I caught about the last hour of the hearing today (7/23) on C-SPAN3. What struck me the most was the seemingly bipartisan agreement that DADT is no longer in the best interests of the country. As to Ms. Donnelly’s testimony, if it had not already been clearly publicized that she was opposed to the repeal, I might well have been at a loss to guess where she was coming from. She repeatedly gave vague and indirect responses to the the committee members’ questions and appeared constantly on the defensive. Does anyone know the schedule for future open hearings and telecasts?

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