One week ago U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Phillips ordered the United States military to end its discriminatory policy of banning gay men and women from serving in the armed forces. Yesterday, she refused a government request to stay her ruling until a Pentagon study of the impact of lifting the ban, due in December, could be completed. The Pentagon has now advised recruiters to begin accepting the applications of openly gay enlisters.
Dan Choi, the veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom who was discharged from the Army last year after coming out publicly as gay, wasted no time. He presented himself at a recruiting station in Times Square, New York, and, after being told he was too old for the Marines, re-enlisted in the Army. Though recruiters are instructed not to ask about a potential recruit’s sexual orientation (and why should they?), Choi volunteered that he was gay and had been discharged under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. He told reporters afterwards that the recruiters were happy to have him and were “absolutely professional.”
“If we want access to the American promise, we must demand it now,” Choi said. When asked if he had a message for the Obama administration, Choi responded impatiently, “Yes. I think you need to get off your ass and do something.”
The Obama administration, through the Department of Justice, is expected to appeal the ruling of Judge Phillips, though the White House insists that it still supports ending the ban on gays in the military permanently. President Obama has said repeatedly that he wants to repeal the ban in an orderly manner, through legislation.
A fine notion, that. Obviously ending the ban on gays through legislation is the preferred course of action here, just as it would have been for ending racial segregation in the military (which was done via an executive order), and for racially integrating public schools (which was done via a Supreme Court decision). Unfortunately for our gay fellow Americans who wish to serve in the armed forces — and for all of us, really, because every American should feel insulted and diminished by this kind of institutionalized bigotry — the Democratic members of the United States Senate and House of Representatives are too incompetent and cowardly to do this.
An attempt to end the ban last month as part of a defense bill failed when Republican members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, along with two Democrats, voted to block the bill from moving to the Senate floor.
I’d like to remind President Obama, and the Democrats in Congress, nearly all of whom claim to very much want to end the ban on gays in the military, that they need not bury the measure to repeal the ban in a massive $700 billion spending bill. For the next few months, at least, the Democrats hold majorities in both houses of Congress. All it takes is the passage of a simple bill:
1. § 654 of the United States Code, which contains the policy concerning homosexuality in the armed forces, commonly referred to as the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, is hereby repealed.
2. § 925 of the United States Code, which establishes sodomy as a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and an offense punishable by court-martial, is hereby repealed.
3. No individual shall be denied enlistment in, or be discharged from the armed forces on the grounds of that individual’s sexual orientation, be it heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or otherwise.
One page, no fuss, no muss.
If the president is not just pandering to a constituency — if he’s serious about this — he needs to take Dan Choi’s advice. He needs to do something, really do something. Take the lead. Stand up and answer the opponents of lifting this ban. There is not a single rational argument for discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation in any context, including military service. The cries of “destabilization” and “harming unit cohesion” are baseless bullshit, and the president should say so.
This is a non-issue. Gays serving in the military is not a hypothetical scenario. It is happening right now, all over the world. Gays are allowed to serve openly in the militaries of twenty-nine nations, including Australia, Canada, Germany, France, Spain, Ireland, Russia, and the United Kingdom. They are serving in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps of the United States this very moment, as they always have despite the official policy of disrespect and contempt for them.
Dan Choi commanded troops as a lieutenant in the United States Army. The men under his command knew he was gay. They didn’t care. They followed his orders and conducted themselves just as honorably and professionally as we would hope all the members of our armed forces would.
President Obama’s Justice Department will appeal the Phillips decision. Fine, but I have a better idea. If you don’t like a court enforcing an end to this disgraceful policy, get on the phone to your allies in Congress and tell them to do something about it.
Get off your ass, Mr. President.