Defense & National Security

Democrats Launch Effort to Repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

House Democrats have reintroduced legislation to repeal the 1993 law banning gays from serving openly in the military.  But this time it could be for keeps.  President Obama and the Democrat Congress may have the votes and the political will to lift the ban which will seriously handicap our warriors.   

Obama isn’t likely to run into the same resistance over gays in the military which seriously undermined President Bill Clinton’s early months.  Today’s culture won’t resist lifting the ban primarily because it is ignorant about what makes an effective fighting force and has become naively sympathetic to the larger gay-lesbian-transsexual political agenda.  

The situation was different in 1993.  Shortly after becoming president, Clinton hit a firewall of resistance from veterans and average citizens when he tried to lift the military’s longstanding ban.  His effort became a political fiasco and ended in embarrassment when the Democrat Congress sent him a strict exclusion statute (10 USC § 654) which he grudgingly signed.

But behind the scenes Clinton drafted contrary implementing regulations known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT).  Congress’ statute excluded homosexuals from the military but Clinton’s DADT regulations say soldiers need not declare their sexual orientation and the military can’t ask about it.

I was part of the process that helped craft the law and DADT.  In January 1993, I joined the Army Chief of Staff’s study group which considered the implications for the service of lifting the ban and then advised senior Army leaders and the secretary of defense’s military working group (MWG).   

Our study group and the MWG provided Pentagon leaders and Congressional leaders background material regarding the potential harm should President Clinton succeed in lifting the ban.  But in the end the administration split the baby by holding its nose as Congress passed the law and then Clinton had Pentagon appointees craft DADT.

There is no secret that DADT satisfied few on either side of the issue because it is a double pretense.  Gays have to pretend they aren’t gay, and the military has to pretend it doesn’t care that they serve.  

That pretense generated dissatisfaction among the G-L-T community who had counted on Clinton to lift the ban.  Since 1993, gay groups like the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network complain thousands of people have been discharged under the law and others chose not to enlist because of the law.  Expect the new effort to lift the ban outright.

On March 2nd, Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), who represents part of the San Francisco bay area, introduced the Military Enhancement Readiness Act (MREA), which would repeal the ban.  The proposed law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation — i.e,  homosexuality — in the armed forces.  

Tauscher supports repealing the ban because it is “… a discriminatory policy that runs counter to the most fundamental American values of patriotism and equality.”

This statement demonstrates Tauscher’s ignorance.  Certainly she, as a member of the House Armed Services Committee, understands the military must discriminate on many bases in order to maintain combat readiness and effectiveness.  That basic “discrimination” is reflected in the fact that only four in ten young Americans qualify for service under the military’s other requirements.

The armed forces discriminate among potential recruits in order to build the best possible force for its highly disciplined culture.  It has 35 pages of discriminatory medical criteria: no hemorrhoids and missing fingers, can’t be too tall or overweight and no sleepwalkers.  The Pentagon rejects also people who are too slow, too old, under-educated or have behavior problems like drug and alcohol abuse.  It also discriminates based on “moral character” to exclude those with criminal records and such.  

The Uniform Code of Military Justice still makes it a crime for soldiers to engage in a particular homosexual act.  Tauscher’s bill doesn’t repeal that provision of the UCMJ.  But it sets up a legal quandary that will burden every commanding officer and NCO: if a gay soldier is there legally — and under Tauscher’s bill many will be — you still have a duty to enforce the UCMJ.  

Does this bill convert “don’t ask, don’t tell” into “don’t look, don’t prosecute?”  

Tauscher says lifting the ban will “… significantly improve our military readiness by allowing highly qualified linguists, medics, and intelligence analysts to serve openly in the armed forces.”  That’s an overstatement of the facts and a naïve understanding of readiness.

Approximately 12,500 personnel have been discharged since 1993 under DADT, most for self-identifying their sexual orientation.  The loss of these personnel from a multi-million man force is insignificant.  They are easily replaced, especially in a job hungry economy by a military that in spite of ongoing wars has retained most personnel.

The congresswoman should also understand that military readiness is a complex formulation of numerous factors: medical, recruiting, equipment serviceability and more.  

The 1993 MWG endorsed the homosexual ban to protect combat effectiveness, which it defined as the product of unit cohesion and readiness.  Cohesive units, the group concluded, are built through the constant and close association of people over time which produces a mixture of trust and confidence.  Openly serving gays polarize and fragment that critical trust and confidence.  

The presence of homosexuals in forced intimate situations illustrates the polarization problem. Forcing heterosexuals to accept gays in intimate situations is an unacceptable invasion of their privacy. It fragments trust and confidence.  

The MWG looked at other cohesion factors like good order, discipline, privacy, morale and core values.  This non-partisan group concluded that having gays serve openly would be considered detrimental to each of these factors.

The working group also warned about the risks to readiness in terms of medical, recruiting and retention factors.  The Army’s surgeon general advised our group that there were increases in health costs associated with the gay lifestyle, and sociologists warned us of the detrimental impact on recruiting and retention that would result from allowing gays to serve openly.

There are fundamental answers to each argument Tauscher and her allies advance for lifting the ban. First and foremost is that there is no constitutional right to serve in our military.  The burden of proof that lifting the ban would do no harm rests with those who would change the policy. So far, change advocates have offered no credible proof.

Decisions regarding who should serve must be made by military professionals who understand the cold reality of the battlefield and not by politicians and their special interest groups. 


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