Yesterday was National Coming Out Day today, and last night, U.S. President Barack Obama gave a speech before the Human Rights Council. He made many promises, such as repealing the Defense of Marriage Act, and ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, but offered few specifics on when these things could be expected to happen.
While I support the ending of both policies, I at least can see a technical argument for a short-term continuation of DOMA. I don’t like the policy itself, but as anyone who follows U.S. politics knows, the wheels of Congress are slow. Passing a law doesn’t happen with the flick of a magic wand, so we can’t expect anything different for DOMA.
There is also a slight public opinion problem related to repealing the law. The latest Pew poll shows why gay couples can’t expect any federal benefits soon. While support for civil unions has risen to 57%, it still lacks a supermajority. Obviously, I don’t ever expect the idea to reach universal popularity, I’d say it would be very hard to start making strong arguments before that number reaches 60%.
Worse than the number for civil unions are the ones for marriage. They have been rising steadily over the past year, but are only at 39%. Taking the number for civil unions and marriage together, repealing DOMA will be a tough argument for any moderate politician to make. It would be a great thing, of course, but politically, the numbers just are not there; if there is any universal in Washington, it’s that legislators want to be re-elected. With the coming mid-term elections, it’s just not happening now, or any time in the future.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a different matter, however.
While those in favor of the policy will no doubt keep up on their arguments about unit cohesion, I’ve never bought it. It has never made sense to me for one thing. It treats gays as if they are going to hit on their fellow soldiers at any time, as if their libido is uncontrollable. This is an old fear, fed perhaps by popular culture’s constant portrayal of all gays as overwhelmingly flamboyant. In reality, they’re clearly not doing anything of the sort now, and I see no reason to expect that the matter would be different because their unit knows someone among their ranks is gay. Gays are not any less professional just because their sexual orientation is different.
So, without a legitimate reason to keep up the policy, why is it still enacted? Search me. In his speech last night, Obama said that policy was being reviewed by Congress. But this is unnecessarily passing the buck. While DOMA must be reviewed and repealed by Congress, military operations are a matter for the Executive Branch. In less than a paragraph, Obama could overturn this policy, yet he does not. Why?
It might be because Obama fears a backlash from the religious wing of the right, but if that’s so, Obama needs to get some backbone. If he hadn’t noticed, that branch of the GOP has considerably less sway than they did before the 2004 election. People are more concerned now-a-days about paying their bills, not about what two consenting people are doing in their bedroom. Gay marriage was by-and-large a state issue during 2008. It was barely covered in the presidential race. I think the President has little to worry about in term of political implications of ending the policy.
Ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell would go a long way toward showing respect for our troops, all of them. It would no doubt allow gay and lesbian servicemembers themselves serve more comfortably, not having to worry about tip-toeing around any discussion that might arise about relationships. And it would stop the punishment of a group of people just because they are different from the mainstream.
The United States military has had to discharge about 13,000 service members since the policy was started. That’s a large chunk of the Afghanistan troop request General McChrystal made to Obama. Fifty-four Arabic translators have had to leave the military in this time. With the War on Terror still rolling strong, this is hardly a resource we can afford to lose.
Obama’s supposed deference to Congress on this issue is just an excuse. It is commendable that he values their opinion, but all the evidence I’ve seen, from opinion polls, to some of the military’s top brass, suggests that the mood in the U.S. toward having gays serve openly in the military has changed sufficiently enough to drop the policy. But Obama will wait, ostensibly until he’s heard Congress’ view on the matter, but nobody really knows for sure. Ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is not a top priority item, giving the recession, the health care debate, and the two wars themselves. However, it is so ridiculously easy to end that there isn’t really a reason to not do it as soon as possible.
So it’s time to give up the stalling, Mr. President. You keep saying you’re going to end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Now you just need to show us you’re serious about it.