“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” passed by Congress in 1993, is a law mandating the discharge of openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual service members. It is a law that has caused much controversy as we watch Republicans on one side supporting the law and Democrats on the other with an agenda to repeal it. What is the history behind “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and what are the efforts on trying to repeal this discriminatory law?
The history of the law seems to be a prolonged tug of war, so to speak. When he was campaigning for the Presidency, Bill Clinton proposed to issue an order to override Department of Defense regulations that banned gay, lesbian, or bisexual people from serving in the United States Armed Forces. But in a piece of legislation passed in 1993, Georgia Senator Sam Nunn, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, proposed holding hearings concerning whether or not gay people should be allowed to serve in the military. The Campaign for Military Service (CMS) was created to operate during these hearings. Along with other gay civil rights groups, CMS put together background information on witnesses chosen by Nunn for the hearings and organized a media campaign to lift the ban. But these efforts had no gains thanks to Senator Nunn and a group of military commanders in the Defense Department. What happened instead was that President Clinton announced a new compromise, which was "Don't Ask, Don’t Tell, Don't Pursue."
If we break this down we can better understand it:
Don't Ask: Commanders or appointed inquiry officials shall not ask, and members shall not be required to reveal, their sexual orientation. Don't Tell: A basis for discharge exists if . . . "the member has said that he or she is a homosexual or bisexual, or made some other statement that indicates a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts ..." and lastly, Don't Pursue: A service member may be investigated and administratively discharged if he or she:
1. states that he or she is lesbian, gay or bisexual; 2. engages in physical contact with someone of the same sex for the purposes of sexual gratification; or 3. marries, or attempts to marry, someone of the same sex.
Yet this law is still oppressive and discriminatory. But there may still be hope for people who support the repealing of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” According to the Service members Legal Defense Network, there is an ongoing movement to repeal DADT. President Obama said, "I will end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, told Congress that repealing DADT is "the right thing to do." Former Chairman John Shalikashvili agrees. Richard Cheney and Colin Powell say it's time to re-examine this law. Along with these leaders' opinions there are the facts: the House of Representatives adopted an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that could lead to the repeal of the law in early 2011. The Senate Armed Services Committee included a similar provision in the bill it reported to the Senate. Service members Legal Defense Network states that "Under this amendment, repeal would await the report of the Working Group established by the Defense Department. The Working Group is studying how to best implement repeal, not whether DADT should be repealed.” Repeal will become effective 60 days after the President, Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs certify that new regulations have been prepared and that repeal is consistent with the standards of military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention of the Armed Forces.
Here are some statistics on support for the repeal of DADT: 73 percent of military personnel are comfortable with lesbians and gays. According to ABC News and the Washington Post, 75 percent of Americans support gays serving openly. And majorities of weekly churchgoers, which is 60 percent, and conservatives, which is 58 percent, want DADT repealed.
What many of us don’t know about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are the consequences a soldier has to pay for coming out to their military communities. Mara Boyd, who was discharged from the Air Force ROTC program in 2003 after coming out to her commanding officer, has suffered financial consequences. According to an article by Peter Fulham from Politics Daily, Boyd had to repay approximately $32,000 in educational costs to the military. And this is just one example out of many.
It is unfair and degrading for soldiers to be discharged from the military and to have to repay money merely because of their sexual orientation. It is a shame for this to be happening in an allegedly free country.
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is an intolerant and unfair law that affects many of the men and women fighting for our country. It may have had much support in the past, but in today’s society most of us do not judge others considering the fact of whether they are heterosexual or homosexual. As a society and as a nation we are learning to accept people for who they are and what they mean to us and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” just does not conform with America’s changing views.