At long last, seventeen years after the discriminatory “Don’t ask, Don’t Tell” policy was instituted, gay military members finally saw a ray of light in the battle to exterminate the unjust law. Could senate majority leader Harry Reid step up to the plate and defend the rights of gay Americans serving in the military? Evidently not.
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a policy passed under President Bill Clinton in 1993, states that military officials will not ask applicants about their sexual orientation, but if a service member openly indicates that he or she is gay, then that person can be immediately discharged. Not surprisingly, this law has caused outrage among civil rights activists and has stirred much debate.
After a long, hard-fought battle to repeal the law, a senate vote on the matter finally came to fruition on Tuesday, September 21, 2010. Would the Democrats, who hold a 59-41 majority, be able to sway just one Republican to block a filibuster and end the current discrimination in the military? Not only was every Republican vote against the measure, but three Democrats voted against it as well, bringing the final tally to 56-43. The senate failed to protect the rights of gay service men and women, and while it’s easy to point fingers at the Republicans, a lot of the blame can be placed on Reid.
Reid decided that political maneuvering was more important than the rights of American citizens, attaching an immigration measure to the bill, in addition to other amendments. Susan Collins, the Republican senator from Maine, would have voted for the repeal of DADT had it stood alone as a bill. “For the life of me, I do not understand why the majority leader does not bring this bill to the floor and allow free and open debate and amendments from both sides of the aisle,” Collins told the Washington Post before the vote. Collins is spot on. If Reid truly cared about the gay military members being affected by DADT, he would allow a free-standing vote on its appeal. At least then, even if the bill did not pass, the repeal would have gotten a fair chance and Americans would see which senators really condone the dated, prejudiced policy.
The seventy year-old senator is seeking reelection for a fifth term, and it seems that the election is more important to him than the people he represents. Adding immigration reform to the bill might get him votes in his home state of Nevada, which has a large Hispanic population, but it only makes it more difficult for the original issue - DADT - to pass. “This is about Reid’s reelect,” a senior House Democratic aide told politico.com. Reid has a duty to fight for the people of his home state, but the DADT debate is the absolute wrong context to push Nevada’s agenda. Immigration reform and DADT are both issues that are certainly worthy of debate, but are so disconnected from each other that resistance by some senators is inevitable.
Activists fighting to repeal DADT are not happy with Reid either. Jarrod Chlapowski, field director for Servicemembers United, a group that supports the repeal of DADT, told politico.com that “it will be part of our education plan that Democratic leaders are just as accountable as the Republicans that are obstructing this right now.” The Democrats can accuse the Republicans of inhibiting progress all they want, but it is Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, who put his motives above the rights of American citizens.
A major change needs to happen in Congress. What is the relation among DADT, immigration policy, and defense spending? Very little, yet somehow all three were lumped into the same bill. More often than not, politicians are arguing with each other instead of compromising, halting progression rather than advancing it. Harry Reid should be ashamed of himself for betraying those who elected him and entrusted him to lead the senate towards change. The next time he opens up his paycheck, he needs to take a moment to consider where his salary is coming from.