Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Walnut Creek) introduced the Military Readiness Enhancement Act on March 3, legislation that would overturn “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a federal law that bans gays and lesbians from serving in the military.
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” established in 1993 by President Bill Clinton, states that gays and lesbians should be barred from the armed forces because they are considered “an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability.”
Since 1994, 20,500 servicepeople have been dishonorably discharged from the military because their sexual orientation was revealed.
The real dishonorable act is the policy that discharges the men and women who work in the military as invaluable soldiers, linguists and intelligence officers.
Similar to Clinton, President Barack Obama promised in his presidential campaign to repeal the ban. In response to a question asked on Obama’s Web site Change.gov regarding Obama’s plans to repeal the policy, spokesman Robert Gibbs replied in a YouTube video, “You don’t hear a politician give a one-word answer much. But it’s, ‘Yes.’”
If yes, then when? Tauscher’s new legislation is a call to Obama to uphold his campaign promise to repeal the discriminatory policy. In November 2008, Obama advisers said actions to repeal the policy would be delayed as late as 2010 because Obama wants to reach a consensus with military leaders before he presents legislation to Congress. His spokesperson also said that the president is going to concentrate on the economy before doing that.
Despite other pressing issues like the economy, Obama must uphold civil rights in our country and keep his campaign promise of change to reflect shifting attitudes in our country.
Based on a Washington Post-ABC News poll in 2008, 75 percent of Americans said that openly gay people should be allowed to serve in the U.S. military, compared with 62 percent in 2001 and 44 percent in 1993. As for military personnel, the 2006 Zogby International poll found that 73 percent of respondents said that they felt comfortable in the presence of gay and lesbian colleagues.
Colin Powell, the former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who had a hand in drafting “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” wants Congress to re-evaluate the measure. “It’s been 15 years and attitudes have changed,” Powell told CNN in December.
In response to Tauscher’s proposed legislation, Obama’s camp released a statement that says the president supports changing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but does not specify how or when.
Obama should take a more decisive stance. Gay rights legislation has been divisive for politicians, such as Bill Clinton when he proposed repealing the ban in 1993. However, as president he must protect the rights of the estimated 65,000 gays and lesbians currently serving in the U.S. military and those that will join the military in the future. The rights of gays and lesbians in the military has been sitting on the back burner long enough.
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