DADT might be moving closer to the chopping block. Last month thousands of former military personnel, politicians and civilians gathered on the Capitol lawn to demand that the Obama administration keep its campaign promise to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Rally participants celebrated the reintroduction of the Military Readiness Enhancement Act (MREA) by Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA) to the House of Representatives, urging Congress to lead by example in passing the legislation.
The act, which gained 149 congressional cosponsors last year, effectively repeals the DADT ban, setting guidelines for recruitment and service that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. Its reappearance on the floors of Congress follows a controversial announcement by the President last month that he is considering conducting yet another study on the effect of gays being allowed to serve openly in the military before taking any action on the current policy.
Supporters of the bill pointed out the importance of not limiting recruitment and participation in the armed forces in the name of prejudice. "This is about strength, about the fighting power of the military. It’s about numbers and about kicking qualified people out of the military," said veteran Brian McGough of VoteVets.org, "I served with people who were gay and everyone knew it, but we all brushed it off, it is what it is."
Opponents of the MREA highlight the supposed majority of service members who are against repealing DADT and the 10% that would reportedly resign if the ban was lifted, citing a survey conducted by Military Times. The validity of that survey has been questioned, however. As reported by The New York Times, mainly older retirees were surveyed, and the study did not include a large segment of the military population under 30 who say they have no problems serving alongside gays and lesbians.
Supporters for the repeal of DADT claim that the much greater loss to the strength and integrity of our armed forces lies in keeping an ineffective and arbitrary ban in place. Over 12,500 soldiers have been discharged on DADT charges since 1993, many of them highly trained and qualified specialists in their fields, according to the Servicemember’s Legal Defense Network (SLDN), a non-profit organization that provides counsel to soldiers threatened by DADT. Among those discharged were 60 Arabic linguists whose job is to translate crucial intelligence information on the front lines, at a time when fluent Arabic speakers are much needed and hard to come by.
In 2005, almost 800 people discharged for being gay had skills deemed "critical" by the military, and replacing discharged personnel after training costs taxpayers over $200 million each year. SLDN estimates that thousands of soldiers leave the armed forces each year because they are tired of serving in secret, and over 3,000 more who are willing to serve are deterred from enlisting because of the ban. "Rep. Tauscher’s bill will significantly improve our military readiness by allowing highly qualified linguists, medics and intelligence analysts to serve openly in the armed forces," said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of SLDN. A human intelligence collector, a healthcare specialist and a water treatment specialist were among 11 soldiers most recently discharged under the ban this past January.
Spirits were high and the energy was charged in Washington, as Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) declared, "I’m done asking! And I’m telling!" to thunderous applause from the crowd. Yet while popular support for the repeal of the ban is significant, even those in favor in Washington remain skeptical that anything definitive will happen in the near future.