With the global-wide kerfuffle about an Islamophobic minister, Rev. Terry Jones of Gainesville, Florida, threatening to burn the Koran on the ninth anniversary of 9/11, little attention last week was given to a federal district court judge’s ruling that the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) ban on gays and lesbians serving openly is unconstitutional.
“In order to justify the encroachment on these rights, defendants faced the burden at trial of showing the ’Don’t ask, don’t tell’ act was necessary to significantly further the government’s important interests in military readiness and unit cohesion. Defendants failed to meet that burden,” the judge wrote.
While it is a laudable act that the California judge, Virginia A. Phillips, struck down former President Bill Clinton’s 1993 policy that bars lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) servicemembers from the military, how does her action strengthen the Pentagon’s study, a review due this Dec. 1 on how to maintain the military’s “unit cohesion” while integrating LGBTQ servicemembers, in our favor?
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At the end of the day, despite Judge Phillips’ historic ruling, the plight of our LGBTQ servicemembers remain unchanged.
To date, more than 13,500 LGBTQ servicemembers have been discharged under DADT, and the number continues to grow.
Polls have revealed, however, that where the country was in 1993 with DADT is vastly different from where the country is today. As a matter of fact, most Americans — even Republicans — are not adverse to the military having LGBTQ servicemembers.
In May, with a vote of 230 to 191, the House of Representatives passed to repeal DADT. On the same day the House passed to repeal DADT, so too did the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“This legislation will help make our armed forces even stronger and more inclusive by allowing gay and lesbian soldiers to serve honestly and with integrity,” President Obama told the Associated Press.
Supporters of lifting the ban argue that allowing LGBTQ servicemembers to serve openly would improve the military because it would draw tens of thousands of additional recruits. And government reports have shown that many of our LGBTQ servicemembers who have been discharged under DADT had critical skills, such as foreign-language proficiency, that are in great demand for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And just last week a surprise Twitter feed of “One Man, One Woman,” a group that describes itself as “working to preserve, protect, and defend the institution of marriage between a man and a woman,” wrote, “There is no need to prohibit gays and lesbians from openly serving in the Armed Forces. They should have the opportunity to serve.”
But with the momentum of Tea Party candidates, who are anti-Obama, anti-abortion, and anti-gay civil rights, unseating long-term Republican incumbents in this recent primary aggressively trying to retake Congress and with midterm elections now just weeks away the chances of repealing DADT is looking slimmer.
Also, with both Republican and Democratic candidates revving up to campaign for midterm elections, playing to their bases concerns about taxes and the economy, putting pressure on the Senate to vote immediately to repeal the policy is not likely.
With the military having the real power to either overturn or to uphold DADT, where does this really leave our LGBTQ servicemembers?
For many in the LGBTQ community, we are anxious about the repeal of DADT coming to fruition, hoping for the President and his administration to effect real and substantive change on our behalf.
But given the political climate now, could Obama have done something sooner to repeal DADT?
I think so.
For example, in 2008, as a campaign promise to LGBTQ voters, Senator Obama empathetically stated he would repeal the discriminatory policy; he campaigned on a full repeal of the law. Soon after Obama’s inauguration in 2009, the LGBTQ community waited anxiously to hear that steps were being made to repeal DADT. But on June 8 of that year when the Supreme Court refused to review the Pentagon policy that prohibits LGBTQ servicemembers to serve openly in the military, Obama’s people added salt to the wounds of our LGBTQ servicemembers by stating in court papers that the ruling on DADT was correct because of the military’s legitimate concern of LGBTQ servicemembers endangering “unit cohesion” — a concept totally debunked by a 2002 study.
Back in the day, LGBTQ servicemembers who died while servicing our country were either closeted about their sexual orientation or were discharged under “honorable conditions” called “Fraudulent Enlistment.”
Unfortunately, today not much has changed.
And come Dec. 1, if DADT isn’t repealed in this Tea Party climate not only will have the Obama administration reneged on its promise to LGBTQ servicesmembers, but it will have reneged also on American troops being the strongest they could be.
Our LGBTQ servicemembers are prepared to defend this country with their lives, but not all of our servicemembers are honored for their acts of bravery and patriotism.
The war they should be fighting is the one that awaits them out there — not the war here at home.
Rev. Irene Monroe is a Ford Fellow and doctoral candidate at Harvard Divinity School. One of Monroe’s outreach ministries is the several religion columns she writes – “The Religion Thang,” for In Newsweekly, the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender newspaper that circulates widely throughout New England, “Faith Matters” for The Advocate Magazine, a national gay & lesbian magazine, and “Queer Take,” for The Witness, a progressive Episcopalian journal. Her writings have also appeared in Boston Herald and in the Boston Globe. Her award-winning essay, “Louis Farrakhan’s Ministry of Misogyny and Homophobia”, was greeted with critical acclaim. Monroe states that her “columns are an interdisciplinary approach drawing on critical race theory, African American , queer and religious studies. As an religion columnist I try to inform the public of the role religion plays in discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. Because homophobia is both a hatred of the “other ” and it’s usually acted upon ‘in the name of religion,” by reporting religion in the news I aim to highlight how religious intolerance and fundamentalism not only shatters the goal of American democracy, but also aids in perpetuating other forms of oppression such as racism, sexism, classism and anti-Semitism.”