Gay and lesbian rights advocates expressed chagrin Sunday at the lack of urgency President Obama seems to be giving his campaign promise to overturn the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the armed forces.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates acknowledged on Fox News Sunday that funds have been allocated for the 2010 budget to enforce the "Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell" policy.
"It continues to be the law," Gates said, "and any change in the policy would require a change in the law. We will follow the law, whatever it is."
Earlier this month, White House spokesman Tommy Vietor issued a statement claiming that President Obama supports changing the law. "As part of a long-standing pledge, he has also begun consulting closely with Secretary Gates and [Joint Chiefs] Chairman [Admiral Mike] Mullen so that this change is done in a sensible way that strengthens our armed forces and our national security."
But Gates said the "dialogue" about overturning the ban "has really not progressed very far at this point in the administration. I think the president and I feel like we’ve got a lot on our plates right now, and let’s push that one down the road a little bit."
Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network — which supports the overturning of the ban — issued a statement saying that "Gates hardly gave a sound reason for kicking ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ down the road — or essentially back tracking on a campaign promise made by his commander in chief. I trust the secretary was not speaking for President Obama, who, hopefully, will issue the call for repeal when he sends his Defense Department budget to Congress in a few weeks. This is about timely leadership."
Sarvis continued: "It’s also called multitasking. Right now is the time — while we’re engaged in two wars — we need the most qualified men and women serving. This is not the time to keep firing linguists and intelligence analysts because of their sexual orientation. The longer the president and Pentagon delay the issue, the fewer linguists and intelligence analysts the Pentagon will have to call on to fight terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan."
Conversely, a 2008 report for the Center for Military Readiness, which opposes overturning the ban, warns that such an action would cause "unprecedented harm to discipline, morale, recruiting and readiness. …T his would be tantamount to forcing female soldiers to cohabit with men at all times, regardless of the impact on discipline and morale. Stated in gender-neutral terms, in conditions of ‘forced intimacy,’ a phrase used in current law, persons will be exposed to persons who may be sexually attracted to them."
Almost 13,000 total service members have been discharged since "Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell" became law under President Bill Clinton in 1993.
A 2004 study by the Government Accountability Office found that of the then-9,488 service members discharged from the military for gay and lesbian conduct, approximately 757 — or 8 percent — "held critical occupations," meaning the kinds of jobs for which the Pentagon offers selective re-enlistment bonuses. That number included 322 with "skills in an important language such as Arabic, Farsi or Korean."
In 2006, we told you the story of one of these service members, Arabic speaker and former member of military intelligence Bleu Copas.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have brought more attention to the ban than previously existed. In 2005, I told you about Iraq War veteran and Purple heart recipient Sgt. Robert Stout of Utica, who was patrolling an area about an hour southeast of Samarra when he was injured by a grenade blast. In 2007, Jon Karl and I told the story of Petty Officer 2nd Class Jason Knight, who said the U.S. Navy knew he was gay, discharged him after he admitted his sexuality, and then recalled him to serve in the Middle East.
In January, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that "there are many challenges facing our nation now and the president-elect is focused first and foremost on jump-starting this economy. So not everything will get done in the beginning but he’s committed to following through" with ending Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell.
Eighty-one percent of the public, according to a December CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll, believes openly gay and lesbian Americans should be allowed to serve in the U.S. military.