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Military plots DADT repeal

The Defense Department this month established a panel to prepare for the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” as support for the policy barring openly gay servicemembers continued to decline.

 

Most prominent among DADT’s newest detractors was retired Army Gen. Colin L. Powell, who had defended the ban as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1993 and continued to defend the ban as George W. Bush’s secretary of state.

Powell, in 1993, organized a meeting of the Joint Chiefs at which the top-ranking military officers challenged Bill Clinton’s push to abolish prohibitions against gay servicemembers. In a statement released Feb. 3, Powell said, “Attitudes and circumstances have changed,” and he added, “Society is always reflected in the military.”

The day before Powell’s retreat from DADT, during a hearing of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates signaled DADT’s imminent demise.

“The question before us is not whether the military prepares to make this change, but how we best prepare for it,” Gates said.

Gates and Mullen described an 11-month review of how to implement a repeal of DADT without disrupting military operations, as well as a 45-day review of how to apply DADT in the interim.

The DADT policy was intended by the Clinton administration to soften the ban on gay servicemembers, to halt witchhunts against then while appeasing military brass and congressional conservatives who argued that openly gay servicemembers threatened military readiness and troop morale.

The Armed Forces, the nation’s largest employer, has discharged more than 13,000 servicemembers under DADT since 1994, according to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a watchdog group based in D.C.

Also since 1994, public, military and political opinion toward the policy has shifted. A Washington Post/ABC News poll in July 2008 found that 75 percent of Americans support repealing DADT. Another poll, conducted in 2006, found that 73 percent of U.S. soldiers would be comfortable with openly gay servicemembers.

The shift in opinion became apparent in the 2008 presidential primary fight, when all the Democratic candidates for the White House pledged to work to repeal DADT.

When President Barack Obama reminded Americans of his pledge during his State of the Union address Jan. 27, SLDN executive director Aubrey Sarvis said the president set “the stage for the beginning of the end of DADT.”

To prepare for the end, Gates tapped Pentagon chief legal advisor Jeh Johnson and Army Gen. Carter Ham to conduct the 11-month study on how to repeal the policy.

The proposed process prompted one basic question from gay members of Congress, as well as leaders with national LGBT groups.

“After 16 years of this discriminatory policy, what is there left to study?” asked Lambda Legal executive director Kevin Cathcart. “Dedicated gay and lesbian servicemembers – and the country – have waited long enough.”

U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., called for “expeditiously” ending DADT. “I believe an implementation study can occur in a much shorter time frame than the 11 months that is currently being proposed,” she said.

The openly lesbian congresswoman also vowed to continue working for passage of the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, which U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Pa., introduced in 2009 to dismantle DADT. The Iraq War veteran’s legislation has 187 co-sponsors, but it has not been a focus of discussions in D.C. as White House, Pentagon and Congressional leaders prepare a strategy for repeal.

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