by Shaun Knittel-
SGN Staff Writer
President Barack Obama is urging Congress to repeal the ban on Gays and Lesbians serving openly in the military.
'This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies Gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are," Obama said on January 27 during his State of the Union address. "It's the right thing to do.'
The statement drew a standing ovation from Congress and from Defense Secretary Robert Gates, as Obama became the second president to talk about Gays in a State of the Union address. The first was Bill Clinton in 1999.
The Gay military ban, known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," requires the Defense Department to separate from the armed services any members who engage in or attempt to engage in homosexual acts; state they are homosexual or Bisexual; or marry or attempt to marry a person of the same biological sex. Last year, nearly 400 servicemembers were forced out of the military since President Obama and 111th Congress were sworn in. Since the policy was put into place in 1993, nearly 13,000 men and women have been separated from the military - at least one, often two, every day. It is estimated that 65,000 Gay and Lesbian people currently serve in the military.
A new survey, released by a Gay rights policy center on January 26, says an estimated 66,000 Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual people are serving in the U.S. military - roughly 2% of all military personnel. The figures suggest a slight increase in the number of Gays in the military.
Gays, Lesbians and Bisexuals account for about 13,000 active duty servicemembers, equal to less than 1% currently deployed, the report estimated. An additional 53,000 others serve in the National Guard and reserves, equaling about 3.4%.
The actual number of Gays, Lesbians and Bisexuals serving in uniform is unknown; the military does not track such figures.
The latest reports authors used a variety of statistical methods to arrive at the estimate, drawing in part on the Census Bureau's 2008 American Community Survey and the 2000 Census, in which some people identified themselves as Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual and as serving in the military.
As president, Obama hasn't taken any concrete steps toward repealing the failed Department of Defense policy. Still, Obama has said on more than one occasion that he would do away with the ban. It is important to note that the president cannot repeal the law without the support of both Congress and the Senate - something unlikely to happen without the consent of top military brass. In other words, a repeal of DADT will only come to pass if there is a general consensus between lawmakers, the executive branch, and the service chiefs.
Obama's effort to eliminate DADT faces some resistance from Congress and Pentagon officials who have been staunch supporters of the Clinton-era policy. Still, the Pentagon said on January 28 that it will work to carry out the president's wishes. Top military leaders are working on a plan for how a repeal of the law would be implemented in the Defense Department, said Navy Capt. John Kirby, spokesman for Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"The chairman and the service chiefs understand perfectly the president's intent, and they look forward to being able to provide their best military advice about the implementation to repeal," Kirby said.
Asked on January 28 whether the Army is ready for such a change, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey said, "What you heard last night was the beginning of a process."
According to Pentagon officials, Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates are expected to address the topic in congressional budget hearings next week.
SUPPORT FOR REPEAL
Servicemembers United, the nation's largest organization of Gay and Lesbian troops and veterans and their allies, lauded Obama's remarks regarding DADT.
"Tonight, President Obama stepped up to the plate and made a firm commitment to work to finally end DADT in 2010," said Alexander Nicholson, founder and executive director of Servicemembers United. "Although brief, his language was plain, his message was clear, and the outline of his strategy was smart. This effort will indeed be a challenge for our community, and the resistance of those who support discrimination in our armed forces should not be underestimated. But one thing is now clear: a full assault on this failed law is underway by those who recognize that discrimination is not an American value."
"We have heard promises before about ending DADT and we welcome the president's statement tonight that the time has finally come to fulfill that promise," said Kevin Cathcart, executive director of Lambda Legal. "Very little has changed since Lambda Legal represented Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer 18 years ago after she was discharged for being a Lesbian. Changing this discriminatory policy is long overdue."
The military is our nation's largest employer and this government-sanctioned discrimination must end, he said. "We will continue to advocate for the repeal of DADT so that Gay and Lesbian servicemembers and their families can serve openly and with the same support afforded to other military families."
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation's largest LGBT civil rights organization, announced on January 28 a robust campaign to end DADT in response to Obama's pledge. The "Voices of Honor" will organize veterans across the country, generate media coverage, and build focused campaigns in key states that will be critical to the final votes in the House and Senate, said HRC officials.
"The commander-in-chief sent a clear message tonight that in a time of war, what matters is that our men and women get the job done - not whether they're Gay or straight," said HRC President Joe Solmonese. "Our 'Voices of Honor' campaign will bring about much-needed action to end this law that the vast majority of Americans oppose."
Solmonese says our country simply cannot afford "this discriminatory law that hurts military readiness by denying patriotic men and women the opportunity to serve."
"Ridding our laws of discrimination that weakens our national security will require continued leadership from the president, as well as Congressional allies. We look forward to working with the president and Congress to advance an equality agenda on these and a range of other issues," he said.
Although President Obama's call for repeal energized some, it fell short for some Gay activists, including some of the servicemembers a repeal would benefit.
"Obama should have announced a suspension of dismissals," said Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "The time for broad statements is over. The time to get down to business is overdue. We wish we had heard him speak of concrete steps tonight."
Army Lieutenant Dan Choi, a West Point grad, Arabic translator and outspoken advocate for repealing DADT, made headlines when he came out as Gay on The Rachel Maddow Show. Following his on-air announcement, Choi was recommended for discharge from military service. In the time since then, he's been the face of the movement to repeal DADT.
Choi made his views known following Obama's State of the Union address and branded the president's remarks as lip service.
"Last night, the president repeated his campaign commitment to repeal DADT as part of his State of the Union address," said Choi. "While the president promised that DADT would come to an end 'this year,' he did not provide specifics - and the White House still has not released a plan to kill it. That's unacceptable."
A group of top military brass that Adm. Mullen formed to advise him of the issue has urged a delay that could go into the middle of the next presidential election year.
Public opinion in the way Americans view DADT is shifting. A July 2008 poll by the Washington Post and ABC news found that 75% of Americans support allowing Gays to serve openly in the military - up from just 44% in 1993.
Obama has called for a repeal, that much is certain. Whether or not Congress and the Senate act on it or the likelihood of the military chiefs implementing it remains to be seen.
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