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Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Update

January 25, 2010

Its been a while since I’ve written on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, so here is my attempt at an update to recap for those who don’t follow progress (or lack thereof) closely.

Senator Carl Levin has called for a hearing on DADT before the Senate Armed Services Committee.  In a move that is sure to draw more media attention, Secretary of Defense Gates and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen, will testify.  Hopefully, Adm. Mullen’s testimony won’t reflect the recently leaked memo from his in-house legal counsel, which advocated holding off on a policy change.  In another Pentagon memo, the possibility of separate housing and showers for gay services members was raised if DADT is repealed.

Despite the uncertainty of timing, another military official said that the Department of Defense was beginning to look at the practical implications of a repeal — for example, whether it would be necessary to change shower facilities and locker rooms because of privacy concerns, whether to ban public displays of affection on military bases and what to do about troops who are stationed or make port calls in nations that outlaw homosexuality.

Based on her outspokenness on this issue, Senator Gillibrand will participate despite not being on the Committee.

Another tact that is being closely watched is the possibility of a repeal of DADT being included in the Defense Authorization (coming the first Monday of February).  Over at AMERICAblog, Joe Sudbay explains:

The best place to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is in the Defense Authorization. We need the repeal language to be part of the bill itself. That message has to come from the President. Then, if some member of Congress wants to remove the repeal language, they have to overcome a filibuster in the Senate or find a majority in the House. If the language isn’t included, the burden is on our side to break the filibuster in the Senate. With those who purport to be our allies in power, we should have the easier path here. But, that requires Presidential leadership. Haven’t seen that yet.

To me, this is particularly interesting as it puts the burden on those who want to maintain the status quo.  Additionally, it would require conservatives to hold up the defense authorization.  Those are both hurtles that don’t seem too appealing for conservatives to pursue for a move that is supported by the majority of the public.

However, even if this tactic is employed, it’s not a sure thing it will work out.  Both Sen. Levin and Rep. Skelton, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, can pull the language before it goes to the full Congress.  Despite Levin’s call for a hearing on DADT, he has a mixed history on the issue of DADT.  Rep. Skelton has said in the past that he is not personally for the repeal of DADT.  DC Agenda has more on this.

And if these don’t work out, Barney Frank assures us there are enough votes to pass a repeal in the House.  The Senate is a little less clear.

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed today, Richard Socarides outlines exactly what options remain if Obama doesn’t act through legislation:

Current law does not require the services to discharge members based on sexual orientation per se. Rather, it looks to certain conduct to create a presumption for discharge. Thus, the Department of Defense has the authority to devise regulations that determine when such prohibited conduct has occurred. Defense could also interpret the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell statute more literally (as intended) and refuse to discharge a service member unless he willfully discloses that he is gay, which almost never happens. Finally, Defense could invoke current regulations to retain gay service members in the interest of national security. All are good options.

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