The political fun and games surrounding this week’s filibuster of the Defense Authorization Bill because of a Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell (DADT) amendment kind of put a burr under my saddle, probably under the saddles of most gay military veterans. And it certainly was a kick in the teeth for the thousands of gay men and lesbians currently serving.
The filibuster was led by Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), openly heterosexual and a Vietnam War hero, who in order to win re-election in his home state recently has traded his “maverick” status for something resembling that of right-wing ideologue.
The amendment would not have repealed DADT, as some GOP senators alleged when justifying the filibuster, but instead would have authorized its repeal if --- after examining results of a study now in progress --- the secretary of defense, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and president decided repeal would not hamper military effectiveness.
The current policy, since amended to strengthen it, was introduced in 1993 as a compromise by President Bill Clinton, who had campaigned on a promise to allow all Americans to serve without regard to sexual orientation. Since it went into effect, about 13,400 military personnel have been discharged under its provisions. Although well-intentioned in a way, the policy just doesn’t work very well.
Although public opinion polling results always are open to challenge, the tide appears to have shifted broadly against restrictions on gays in the military and suggest that a substantial majority of Americans of all political varieties, Democrat, Republican and Independent, would favor DADT’s repeal.
In the end this week, the vote to end McCain’s filibuster and allow the defense bill (and the DADT amendment) to be voted upon, failed to achieve the needed two-thirds majority needed for cloture as two Arkansas Democrats joined the Republican caucus, as did Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) as a procedural move.
Now it’s fairly easy to get mad at Republicans about this --- and I’m generally mad at Republicans, but there’s plenty of blame to go around. The Democrat decision to attach the DADT amendment to the defense bill (and Republicans are enthusiastic users of this tactic, too) was a mistake --- if the goal was to repeal DADT and not score political points. So was Reid’s reluctance to allow GOP amendments. That pushed two more liberal Republican senators, Maine’s Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, who most likely would have voted for repeal, into voting against cloture.
The only real winners here I suppose were the politicians. Republicans now can claim to be standing firm before their conservative constituents on the principle that us dirty queers should be kept in our place and away from the table; Democrats can claim to be standing firm as shining lights in the fight for human rights.
Of course DADT should be repealed. It institutionalizes in public law hypocrisy and lies. It pours contempt on the honorable intent and honorable service of gays who always have served and continue to serve in the military (the same contempt was poured out on black military personnel until President Truman ordered that the armed forces be integrated in 1948). It pours contempt on heterosexual men and women of the military, implying that they are not intelligent and sensible people. It is a morally bankrupt policy.
Comedian and commentator Jon Stewart asks occasionally, “Are we run by assholes?” You bet we are.