“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the military policy that is the consistent joke of late-night hosts, is heading toward its final days. But don’t expect it to disappear any time in the next two years. Despite a Quinnipiac University poll showing that a majority of Americans believe homosexuals should be able to serve openly and a November 2010 Pentagon report showing a majority of active servicemen also believing homosexuals should be able to serve openly, Republicans are opposed to the idea. Thus, Republican control over the House of Representatives for the next two years basically assures this policy will not be overturned.
Opposition to repeal by Congress does not mean it will never be repealed — just that repeal will be delayed. Repeal is practically inevitable. Citing federal court cases, the Department of Defense has altered investigation and discharge policies in regard to homosexual service members. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has put in a personal appeal for Congress to remove the policy. The only thing that seems to be preventing President Obama from using executive authority to end the policy or allowing the courts to end the policy is history.
From the very inception, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has been controversial.
In 1993, President Clinton wanted to repeal the military ban on homosexuals serving. Congress opposed him and Clinton used an executive directive to implement the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” compromise instead. The use of executive authority to countermand Congress made the policy instantly controversial.
President Obama’s Promise
Repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was a campaign promise of President Obama. Yet, despite having a filibuster-proof Senate majority and a majority of the House, Democrats did not take any action to repeal the ban. By the time Obama and Congress started to act, it was after Republicans were able to filibuster.
2010 Log Cabin Republican’s Lawsuit
On Sept. 9, 2010, in response to a lawsuit by the Log Cabin Republicans, a federal judge ruled that the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was unconstitutional. After approximately a week of confusion for the military, the Obama administration appealed and got a stay on the ruling until the appeal could be ruled on.
Controversy is practically synonymous with this policy. The use of executive directive to implement the policy made it a focus point for opponents. Recognizing that any repeal would need as little controversy as possible, President Obama has sought to get military approval of repeal and congressional approval. He does not want either the courts to repeal the policy or repeal the policy with his own authority. His approach shows remarkable understanding of the history and controversy that exists around this policy. It also shows his willingness to make unpopular choices in order to legitimize a future repeal.
What this all means is simple: “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is the law of the land, and most likely will be for another two years at least. But, as long as the courts don’t circumvent the process, the groundwork has been laid for congressional repeal. Public opinion, and, more importantly, military opinion, both favor repeal. Democrats already favor repeal and Republicans want to continue to curry the favor of military personnel. Expect this policy to be repealed before the end of the decade. And, due to the diligence being taken now, the repeal will be almost seamless, having minimal impact on military personnel in or out of the field.