Finally, A Chance for Equality
Above the Fold
Second Update: History In the Making: (11:36 PM Thursday) So far, the Service Chiefs are getting exactly the attention they deserve: none. In an historic action, the House of Representatives voted today 234 to 194 to repeal the loathsome policy which has forbidden gays and lesbians from serving openly for decades. Two hundred and twenty-nine Democrats and 5 Republicans voted in favor; 168 Republicans and 26 Democrats voted against. Bravo! to Congressman Patrick Murphy of Pennslylvania, the Iraqi veteran who led the fight in the house. And kudos to Joe Lieberman and Carl Levin in th Senate, who achieved the same result in the Senate Armed Services Committee, by a vote of 16 to 12.
“Bottom line,” said Joe Lieberman, “thousands of service members have been pushed out of the U.S. military not because they were inadequate or bad soldiers, sailors, Marines or airmen but because of their sexual orientation. And that’s not what America is all about.”
Which proves that if you live long enough, you can hear anything–even a noble statement from the Independent Senator from Connecticut.
Update: (1:07 AM Thursday): In act as despicable as it is extra-constitutional, the chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force and the Marines wrote letters to Senator John McCain late yesterday, directly challenging the position of the President, the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, all of whom have endorsed the compromise legislation before Congress to repeal don’t ask don’t tell.
In the letters solicited by McCain, the chiefs asked Congress to delay voting on the bill until after the Pentagon completes its wholly superfluous review of the current, disastrous policy.
Together with everything else he has said and done this year, this action makes McCain as craven as any other slave of the lunatic fringe of his party.
If anything like this had happened when Harry Truman was president, Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James T. Conway, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz and Naval Chief of Operations Admiral Gary Roughead would surely have been fired for outright insubordination.
Former Joint Chiefs Chairman John M. D. Shalikashvili immediately fired back at the Service Chiefs in a letter to Senators Carl Levin and Joe Lieberman. Shalikashvili wrote “there is nothing in these letters that gives Congress any reason to delay enacting the legislative compromise that was proposed this week….It is not only preferable, but essential that 10 U.S.C. § 654 be repealed in order for the service chiefs to retain the very authority they require to do their jobs effectively.”
For the last time–please god!–there is no serious reason grounded in policy or politics to prevent gays and lesbians from serving openly in the United States military.
The current policy damages national security, baffles most soldiers under 30, has cost taxpayers $1.3 billion–and is opposed by at least 75 percent of American adults, according to recent polls for CNN and ABC and The Washington Post.
Will this be the week when the White House finally demonstrates that it has understood that?
So far, the indications are murky at best. Although the White House did sign off on a compromise which would allow Congress to repeal the current law–but let the president decide exactly when that repeal will take effect–it announced its support in the most tepid way possible.
As Kerry Eleveld pointed out at advocate.com, “Office of Management and Budget director Peter Orszag joined Defense Secretary Robert Gates in saying that ‘ideally’ the Pentagon’s study would be completed prior to a vote. But since ‘Congress has chosen to move forward with legislation now,’ Orszag conceded the proposed amendment “meets the concerns” that have been voiced by Defense secretary Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”
That’s a position that puts the White House several steps behind Senator Joe Lieberman on an issue of common sense and fundamental human justice. Several steps behind Lieberman isn’t a bad place for the White House to be on this subject–it’s a humiliating and disgraceful place.
Barack Obama promised dozens of times during the presidential campaign that he would repeal this idiotic policy, and repeated that promise in his most recent State of the Union message–promises which prompted Jon Stewart to point out that “‘yes we can’ doesn’t mean that we will.”
Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Mike Mullen gave courageous testimony last February calling for repeal of the policy, and declaring, “the great young men of our military can and would accommodate such a change–I never underestimated their ability to adapt.” And speaking to graduating Air Force Cadets today, Mullen reiterated: “Few things are more important to an organization than people who have the moral courage to question the direction in which the organization is going–and then the strength of character to support whatever final decisions are made.”
Meanwhile, three openly gay officers from Holland, Sweden and Great Britain ridiculed the current policy in a piece in Politico. Among their points:
* Though we maintain a respect for the American people, their military and political process, we share a sense of puzzlement — and a sort of shock — at the rhetoric we heard surrounding “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”..We are aware of colleagues in our own militaries who don’t like it that gays and lesbians serve openly. However, despite considerable fears before we enacted these policies, such attitudes are rare.
* Moral opposition to homosexuality, while real, is just not allowed to undercut our militaries’ missions. Nor do we think it will have any impact on yours after you repeal “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”
*This is an important point, because many Americans seem to believe that ending anti-gay discrimination in European and Israeli militaries faced no resistance because our cultures are more tolerant. In fact, our polls, rhetoric and even threats of mass resignations were quite similar to the continuing resistance in America. Yet none of the doomsday scenarios came true.
And as anyone with regular contact with modern American officers will tell you, many field grade officers think the ban should be lifted, and virtually all of them recognize that most of today’s younger troops see nothing wrong with openly gay service. The climate is very different today from what it was in the early 1990s.
It is time for Barack Obama to prove once and for all that he realizes that discrimination against gay people is just as heinous as discrimination against African-Americans–and to show the same kind of gumption that Harry Truman demonstrated when he integrated the Armed Forces after World War II.
Idiots like Republican congressman Mike Pence say “the American people don’t want the American military to be used to advance a liberal political agenda”–but 75 percent of the American public say they disagree with him. As Rachel Maddow asked last night, “Do 75 percent of the people even believe that the earth is round?”
The most courageous man in this fight has been Patrick Murphy, an Iraq veteran and a Pennsylvania Congressman who has fought tirelessly to get the current law repealed. Passage of the reform law in the House this week seems likely. The outcome in the Senate Armed Services Committee remains in doubt.
Aaron Belkin and Nathaniel Frank have spent most of the last decade laying the intellectual groundwork for this change. “If this goes through the Senate, this is going to be historic,” Belkin told FCP today. “Forecasting is an inexact science but hopefully we will have reason to celebrate soon.”
Since the passage of health care reform, we have known that this White House is capable of twisting arms on Capitol Hill when it thinks it is necessary. Now is the time for Barack Obama to prove to his progressive constituency that at least some of their ideals still matter to him. Late this afternoon, Senator Ben Nelson announced his support for the compromise–a very good sign indeed.
But if the president fails to convince the Senate to pass the necessary amendment to the Defense appropriations bill this week–an amendment supported by three quarters of the public–none of us should ever forgive him.