The absolute worst nightmare of diehard defenders of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has become reality: They’re now fighting the Pentagon, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“Speaking for myself and myself only, it is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do,” Adm. Mike Mullen said in riveting, military-man eloquent testimony Feb. 2 before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“No matter how I look at this issue,” the chairman of the Joint Chiefs continued, “I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens. For me personally, it comes down to integrity — theirs as individuals and ours as an institution.”
The nation’s highest-ranking military officer concluded: “I also believe that the great young men and women of our military can and would accommodate such a change. I never underestimate their ability to adapt.”
Now, of course, the losing team can’t be expected to look at the one-sided score and just walk off the field.
Sen. John McCain — the Arizona Republican who in 2006 said if military leaders ever told him DADT should be repealed “we ought to consider seriously changing it” — peevishly lectured Mullen and the Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who also testified “I fully support” repeal:
“Well, I’m happy to say that we still have a Congress of the United States that would have to pass a law to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, despite your efforts to repeal it, in many respects by fiat,” McCain told them.
Further weakening opponents, Colin Powell, who as chairman of the Joint Chiefs in 1993 was the top gun against President Bill Clinton’s attempt to allow gay Americans to serve openly, declared that “attitudes and circumstances have changed” and “I fully support” the drive toward repeal.
Another former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. John Shalikashvili, had already advocated repeal, saying a nation founded on the ideal of equality “should recognize and welcome change that will build a more cohesive military.”
Here’s what to watch for next:
— More hearings: A blizzard postponed Senate DADT hearings set for Feb. 11. When the heads of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines testify in coming weeks about their budgets, what will they say about DADT?
— Pentagon preparations: A first-of-its-kind Pentagon-conducted “implementation plan,” as Gates calls it, will include a study of the views of troops and their families. While disturbing at first blush, if done right, it could help ease the transition.
“The question before us,” Gates testified, “is not whether the military prepares to make this change but … how we best prepare for it.”
— Legislative advances: Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin left open the possibility of inserting into the Defense authorization bill a moratorium on discharges during the study year, or even a full repeal.
“If there were a moratorium on it, then what I consider to be a slow pace then would be practical, more fair,” Levin told reporters after the hearing.
Meanwhile, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., proposes de-fanging DADT by forbidding the use of federal funds to enforce it.
— House work: House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton opposes repeal. That puts him in a Sumo wrestling ring against a mighty big heavyweight, Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Need I say more?
At least for now, this debate will be missing the voices of the gay men, lesbians and bisexuals currently risking their lives for our country. That they are forbidden to speak up says everything about why this un-American ban must end.
Deb Price of The Detroit News writes the first nationally syndicated column on gay issues.
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