After years of debate and intense discussion, the United States military’s policy requiring gay and lesbian service members to hide their sexual orientation is finally brought to an end.
A final vote of 65 to 31 in the Senate brought to an end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the long standing policy of mandatory discharge for any service member proven to be gay or lesbian.
Speaking to the supporters of the repeal, President Barack Obama lauded the end of a “policy that denied the service of thousands of patriotic Americans forced to leave the military, despite years of exemplary performance, because they happen to be gay.” He added that he is “absolutely convinced that making this change will…underscore the professionalism of our troops as the best led and best trained fighting force the world has ever known. It is time to allow gay and lesbian Americans to serve their country openly. No longer will many thousands more be asked to live a lie in order to serve the country they love.”
Opponents of repeal warned that allowing openly gay members to serve in the military during war time will cause distraction to other service members that could prove deadly. However, proponents of repeal pointed out that racial desegration and allowing women to serve did not have any negative consequences on the military’s effectiveness.
Said Oregon senator Ron Wyden: “I don’t care who you love. If you love this country enough to risk your life for it, you shouldn’t have to hide who you are.”
Gay rights activists, including Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, feel repeal of DADT is a significant step forward for gay rights, and believe this will be a “stepping stone to further advances for the gay and lesbian community.”
DADT was put in place by then president Bill Clinton in 1993. At that time, a policy was in effect that had been enacted in 1982 which stated that homosexuality was clearly incompatible with military service. Service members who were discovered to be gay or lesbian were discharged in accordance with procedures signed into law in 1950 by then president Harry S. Truman.
In 1992 Naval Petty Officer Allen R. Schindler Jr. was murdered by two of his shipmates in a public restroom in Nagasaki, Japan. Following Schindler’s murder, the military’s stringent position against gays serving openly came under intense fire.
Bill Clinton campaigned on a promise to allow all Americans to serve openly, regardless of their sexual orientation. As president, Clinton’s plan ultimatey failed, but he was able to negotiate a compromise. Originally known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue,” a “Don’t Harrass” provision was added later effectively protecting service members suspected of being gay or lesbian from harassment or violence.
DADT was intended to allow gays and lesbians to serve in the military as long as their sexuality was kept secret. Military recruiters were not allowed to ask an individual’s sexual orientation, and thus could not refuse admission into the military based solely upon a person’s sexuality. However, if it became publicly known that an individual was gay or lesbian, he or she could be forceably discharged.
In November of 2010, the Pentagon released the results of a study conducted to determine the attitudes of active service members on serving with gays and lesbians. The study found that the majority of service members believed their duty would not be affected by serving alongside gays and lesbians. Moreover, two separate public polls in late 2010 indicated between 72 and 77 percent of the American public favored allowing openly gay and lesbian people to serve in the military.
Tens of thousands of service members have been discharged under the DADT policy.
The bill is expected to be signed by President Obama as early as Monday.
Following his signature there is a 60 day waiting period and final and full repeal of DADT could take several months as a smooth transition is planned and carried out.