“We Are A Nation That Says ‘Out Of Many, We Are One’”: Obama Signs DADT Repeal Into Law
December 22nd, 2010
Today, President Barack Obama signed historic legislation which begins the process of ending the long-standing ban against LGBT people serving openly in the armed forces.
President Obama hailed the legislation as a key milestone in the civil rights struggle for LGBT Americans:
No longer will our country be denied the service of thousands of patriotic Americans who are forced to leave the military – regardless of their skills, no matter their bravery or their zeal, no matter their years of exemplary performance – because they happen to be gay. No longer will tens of thousands of Americans in uniform be asked to live a lie, or look over their shoulder in order to serve the country that they love.
…We are no longer a nation that says ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ We are a nation that says ‘Out of many, one.’
Present at the signing ceremony was former Marine Staff Sargent Eric Alva. He was the first American to be injured during the invasion of Iraq when he stepped on a land mine and lost his leg in the explosion. As he was recovering at Bethesda Naval Hospital, he was visited by President George Bush, first lady Laura Bush, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, none of whom knew that he was gay.
Also present at the signing ceremony was Lt. Dan Choi,who was discharged last summer from the New York National Guard under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” More recently, he has been recovering from a breakdown due to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, brought on by his service in Iraq and compounded by stress over his public advocacy for DADT’s repeal.
President Obama hailed the law, saying it will “strengthen our national security and uphold the ideals that our fighting men and women risk their lives to defend. Noting that LGBT Americans have fought bravely in every war since the Revolution, Obama applauded the additional sacrifices that they made because of the burden of serving in silence. “None of them,” he added, “should have to sacrifice their integrity as well.”
The Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010 specifies that the 1993 Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell legislation will become stricken from the law sixty days after the President, Defense Secretary, and the Joint Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces certify to Congress that the Defense Department has “prepared the necessary policies and regulations” to allow LGBT members to serve openly, and that those policies are “consistent with the standards of military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention of the Armed Forces.”
No further action by Congress is called for in the Act’s language, but for the time being, DADT is still the law of the land. Active LGBT servicemembers are urged to remain circumspect in disclosing their sexual orientation.
Repealing DADT is more than just a matter of ending discharges and accepting gay applicants. The Pentagon Study that was released three weeks ago identified numerous regulations which will require revisions. Many of these regulations touch on such matters as deployment, off-base and on-base housing, family hardship considerations, family bereavement, sexual harassment, workplace nondiscrimination, and many other personnel policies. This is in addition to training and policy communications which will need to take place throughout the ranks of the armed services.
Given the scale of the report’s recommended policy changes to accomplish DADT repeal, some observers believe that it may take as long as a year to fully implement the changes needed to support DADT’s ultimate repeal. Based on historical precedent, I would agree with that assessment. When President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981 in 1948 ordering the racial desegregation of the armed forces, it took the military more than three years to fully implement the order. Integration for personnel stationed in Korea, Okinawa and Japan didn’t occur until the end of 1951.
But that integration occurred against much greater opposition throughout the military and in American society as a while. DADT repeal is expected to go much more smoothly. Three quarters of Americans support repealing DADT, while the Pentagon’s study found that 70% of military personnel believe that having a gay service member in their unit will have a positive, mixed, or no effect on the unit’s ability to “work together to get the job done.” In an interview with the Advocate’s Kerry Eleveld, President Obama said, “My strong sense is [implementation] is a matter of months… Absolutely not years.” Obama repeated that pledge during his signing ceremony this morning. He said that the service chiefs are “committed to implementing this change swiftly and efficiently,” and he vowed, “We are not going to be dragging our feet to get this done.”