Sorting Out The New DADT Repeal Compromise

On yesterday’s edition of ABC’s World News Tonight, Bob Woodruff hosted a segment about Jeff Sheng‘s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell art exhibit/ photobook. He recently took portraits of currently serving lesbian and gay servicemembers whose lives have been changed by DADT, with their identities obscured and faces hidden.

Sgt. Anthony Bustos, one subject of the photobook entitled “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, Volume I”, took the opportunity to come out of the closet. With six months left in his enlistment, the Army medic (previously known as “Matt” of Lubbock, Texas) wanted to explain why he would not be reenlisting.

[edit: ABC has deleted the video; here’s the transcript.]

Sgt. Bustos’ coming out (congratulations!) comes in an important week for DADT repeal. This is a loooooong post, but we have a lot of important ground to cover. Stay with me!

On Monday morning, someone at the White House noticed that DADT repeal was going to be pushed whether they liked it or not, and got to work crafting what is, as Jeremy Hooper at Good As You points out, best described as a compromise of a compromise.

Compromise #1: The LGBT community wants repeal and open service now, and the White House offered a year-long study on implementation with the possibility of open service voted on next year.

Compromise #2: Congress (after a little prodding) wants a vote in 2010, so now the White House is giving support to a vote this week with implementation after several conditions are met at a later, unspecified date.

photo by Jeff Sheng
photo by Jeff Sheng

Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin rooted through the proposed amendment yesterday and learned that indeed it does not directly permit gays to serve openly in the military. The amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill begins with several steps:

  1. The implementation study already underway must be completed and turned in to Defense Secretary.
  2. The President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff must tell Congress that the Defense Department has prepared regulations for implementation.
  3. They must also assure Congress that the Military-Industrial Complex won’t go blooey if lesbian and gay soldiers are allowed to talk about their spouses and kids.
photo by Jeff Sheng
photo by Jeff Sheng

At that point, DADT will officially be repealed. BUT. The amendment does not include a provision requiring the government to allow lesbian and gay soldiers to serve openly. Rather, by only striking DADT, the policy will simply be moved from the legislative branch back to the executive branch, where it was until DADT was passed in 1993.

Next the commanders of the military will presumably implement a regulation permitting lesbians and gays to serve openly. Given how deeply anti-gay animus continues to be with older commissioned officers, that’s not a presumption I’m terribly comfortable making.

The best-case scenerio, of course, is that once the ball is squarely in his court, President Obama will issue an Executive Order requiring the military to allow lesbian and gay soldiers to serve openly using the regulations that were prepared in Step 2. This would to a certain extent mirror President Truman’s order to integrate African Americans into the military with 1948’s Executive Order 9981. I just hope the President has enough foresight to go a step further than Truman and include a deadline. We don’t want it to take another military disaster to force integration.

photo by Jeff Sheng
photo by Jeff Sheng

Remember, it’s important that the amendment be placed by the Senate Armed Services Committee before the Defense Authorization Bill goes to the full Senate. This lowers the bar considerably, since it would then take 60 votes (assuming filibuster) to remove DADT repeal, a threshold that the Senate would be much less likely to meet. The committee vote and the full Senate vote are expected this week. Word from the House of Representatives is that they indeed have the votes to pass repeal as early as next week.

But before we break out the champagne and celebrate a major victory, it’s important to remember that this compromise, if passed, is only a first step. We aren’t there yet, and as Lt. Choi said in a video released by GetEqual last night, we can’t celebrate until and unless lesbian and gay servicemembers can serve openly without fear of losing their jobs.

As so many have said, the best chance for DADT repeal is inclusion in the Defense bill. No action this year would mean that DADT probably wouldn’t be repealed for another generation, and this compromise would remove that concern, or at least decrease it. Let’s face it, a watered down and incomplete version of an earlier watered down and incomplete version with several strings attached and no deadline may be the best we can get.

This right here is why I hate politics.

I will say this, though. If this compromise passes and President Obama kicks it down the road again, there won’t be enough jails to house all the homos lined up on the White House fence.

And yes, I’m volunteering to be the first.

(All photos by Jeff Sheng from his photobook “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, Volume I”. Buy it here. Hopefully we’ll see their faces in Volume II.)