“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Hearings Begin in the Senate

Obama signals his administration’s intent to proactively oppose the 16 year old Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) policy.

"This year,” President Obama said in his State of the Union speach, “I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are." Thus Obama signaled his administration’s intent to proactively oppose the 16 year old Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) policy. Obama has repeatedly addressed his disagreement with DADT, the army’s policy banning lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from serving openly in the military. On February 2, however, his  words were backed by action as the Pentagon’s top representatives, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen, testified in hearings held by the Senate Armed Services Committee in favor of officially suspending or rescinding the onerous Clinton era DADT policy.

"No matter how I look at the issue," Chairman Mullen told members of the committee, "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,” adding "For me, it comes down to integrity – theirs as individuals and ours as an institution."

With their testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee the two senior level military officers became the highest level U.S. military leaders ever to speak in favor of the rights of LGBT soldiers. Several members of the committee, particularly Republican members, reacted with apparent shock and disbelief to the military officials’ testimony, even shaking their heads in response to certain parts of the hearings. One of the seemingly most pained was Senator John McCain, who stridently  registered his objections to removing the policy, mystifying many observers who recalled McCain’s well publicized insistence during his 2008 Presidential run that he would support the repeal of DADT if and when top military leadership recommended that it be repealed. The evening news on the night of the February 2, 2010 DADT hearings was filled with video clips of then-Presidential candidate McCain responding in 2008  to a questioner who challenged McCain’s support of the DADT policy with the following: "The day that the leadership of the military comes to me and says, ‘Senator, we ought to change the policy,’ then I think we ought to consider seriously changing it.”

Yet in the face of just such a recommendation, McCain, the senior Republican senator on the commission, to quote MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow, "blew a gasket": no sooner had Defense Secretary Gates concluded his testimony in favor of repealing DADT then  McCain accused the well respected and openly heterosexual senior military leader of being "clearly biased.” In response to Gates’ statement that for him the question was not whether but how to repeal DADT, McCain charged that the Pentagon — and specifically Gates –  was usurping Congress’ job by offering a pubic opinion in support of repealing DADT. “I’m deeply disappointed in your statement, Secretary Gates,” began an icy cool McCain. “You are saying it’s not whether the military prepares to make the change but how we best prepare for it, without ever hearing from members of Congress, without hearing from the members of the Joint Chiefs and, of course, without taking into considerations all the ramifications of this law. Well, I’m happy to say we still have a Congress of the United States that would have to pass a law to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, despite your efforts to repeal it, in many respects, by fiat. Fortunately it is an act of Congress and it requires the agreement of Congress in order to repeal it.” McCain was no doubt not overjoyed two days later, when former U.S. Secretary of State and Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell, a longtime DADT loyalist, added his voice to the chorus calling for its repeal.

Homosexuality has never been openly tolerated in the American military. The 1993 DADT policy introduced by Bill Clinton’s administration was intended as a compromise that let gay men and women serve so long as they stayed silent about their sexuality. Clinton had wanted to repeal the ban entirely, but the military and many in Congress argued that doing so would dangerously disrupt order.

If it succeeds, the rescinding of DADT would mark the biggest shake-up to military personnel policies since President Harry S. Truman’s 1948 executive order integrating the services.

What Do You Think?