‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ Repeal Closer to Reality

by Holland McCabe ’10

The military enacted the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy (DADT) in 1993. The policy forbids openly gay and lesbian Americans from serving in the U.S. Armed Services, but does not allow the military to require soldiers to declare their sexual orientation. However, controversy has arisen from soldiers’ orientations being investigated if superiors suspect they are gay or lesbian. There have been several attempts to repeal this policy, but so far all have failed.

On September 9, U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Phillips ruled that DADT violates the First and Fifth Amendments in the case Log Cabin Republicans v. United States. On October 12, Judge Phillips issued an injunction that banned the military from continuing to enforce the policy, and closed all current investigations under DADT. On November 1, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals placed a temporary stay on Judge Phillips’ ruling, and the case has been appealed to the Supreme Court.

While Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is in effect for now, the fate of this policy is very much still up in the air. A full repeal of the law has never looked so possible. In March, the House passed a bill repealing DADT, but in the Senate the repeal has been added to a larger defense bill. In September, Senator John McCain successfully led a filibuster of this bill, and the next Congress is expected to debate the bill again.

A full repeal of the law has support from President Obama and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen. President Obama made repealing DADT a campaign promise, but other issues have delayed any pressure Obama may place on Congress to consider a repeal.

“It is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do,” said Adm. Mullen at a Senate hearing in February, “No matter how I look at the issue … I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.”

Public opinion is also mostly in favor of repealing DADT. A February CBS News/New York Times poll showed 58 percent of Americans favor allowing gays to openly serve in the military, while 28 percent oppose it (the rest are unsure).

But among many others in the military, opposition is much greater. A report compiled by the Pentagon assessing DADT’s effectiveness surveyed thousands of troops. Overall, 30 percent of military personnel believe repealing the policy would negatively affect “work[ing] together to get the job done.” Among combat units, which are predominately male, dissent is even higher. In Army combat units, 48 percent of soldiers feel openly gay servicemembers would negatively affect unit cohesion.

“I cannot rely on someone who I don’t feel comfortable with, nor can they trust me. A lack of trust turns into a lack of cohesion which eventually leads to mission failure,” said an anonymous service member.

However, Defense Secretary Robert Gates believes that the Pentagon would work to train and prepare service members to accept integration. The Pentagon report also concluded that a repeal now, even in wartime, would only be met with initial problems.

“The general lesson we take from … transformational experiences in history is that in matters of personnel change within the military, predictions and surveys tend to overestimate negative consequences, and underestimate the U.S. military’s ability to adapt and incorporate within its ranks the diversity that is reflective of American society at large,” said the report.