— Tennessee Williams in “A Streetcar
The lame-duck session of Congress was expected to be just that: lame. But--astonishingly!--it produced historic legislation: abolishment of gay and lesbian discrimination in the armed forces.
Congress overturned the heinous policy of don’t ask-don’t tell (DADT). The Senate and House voted overwhelmingly for tolerance, fairness, dignity and decency. And President Obama signed the measure into law.
The repealer affirmed a decision by a federal district court judge: the policy “infringed the fundamental rights of service members and violated their rights of due process and freedom of speech.”
Gays and lesbians will no longer have to lie to serve in the armed forces.
The magnitude of the repeal is immense, comparable to President Truman desegregating the military by executive order in 1948. The only difference is that military desegregation “freed” many more service members.
Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, urging senators to repeal DADT, said: “I don’t care who you love. If you love this country enough to risk your life for it you shouldn’t have to hide who you are.”
Military “bullying” is just as reprehensible as bullying of gays and lesbians in K-12 schools, a hatred that often leads to suicide.
Americans should be grateful for the end of the bigoted, anachronistic policy.
For many, though, it will take time to accept the fact. Homophobia still has a powerful grip on too many Americans.
Congress agreed with the findings of a 10-month Pentagon study:
• The likelihood of adverse impact of abolishing the policy is nil.
• The decision by militaries of Britain, Canada and Australia to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly had no adverse effect.
A few macho mossbacks like Sen. John McCain of Arizona are grieving, calling repeal “very sad.” Even after the Pentagon study he and his ilk tried to move the goalposts, demanding still more hearings and testimony.
Congress, however, realized that all the arguments for retaining the policy were nonsense.
• It was nonsense to resist on religious grounds.
• It was nonsense to resist on moral grounds.
• It was nonsense to resist because of “potential disruption.”
• It was nonsense to resist because “national defense was at stake.”
• It was nonsense to resist because “a major policy change” was unwise in wartime.
Robert Gates, defense secretary, and Adm. Mike Mullen, joint chiefs head, deserve praise for overcoming the stodgy military mind to vigorously urge repeal.
They realized that the armed services had lost 14,000 good men and women since the stupid policy was adopted in 1993.
Clay Bennett, editorial cartoonist, summed up repeal neatly in the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Times Free Press: a military figure sweeping DADT into the dustbin of history.
George Chauncey, Yale history professor, reminds us that the battle against military sexual discrimination was 65 years old. A small group of veterans at the end of World War II had protested the exclusion of gays in the military.
“Ending ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ not only honors the thousands of lesbians and gay men now in the service, it honors the memory of World War II veterans who insisted that they deserved to share in the freedom they had waged a war to defend,” Chauncey writes.
Gays and lesbians have one more battle to fight: the right to same-sex marriage. First, Congress must repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.
That law of 1996, defining marriage as between a man and a woman, is unconstitutional as a federal district court judge ruled in July.
This is not mere “liberal sentiment.” It’s the holy grail. It means equality. It means for homosexual partners: Social Security and health benefits, joint tax returns and adoption rights.
Inequality in the law is never constitutional.
One other significant achievement of the lame-duck session: the Senate ratified the American and Russian treaty to trim nuclear arsenals.
The ratification of the treaty, New Start, was a major victory for President Obama. He had put his prestige, damaged by midterm elections, behind getting the necessary two-thirds Senate approval.
However, the just-ended session was marred by one major loss: the American DREAM Act. It was filibustered to death by obstructionist Republicans.
The measure would have given the children of illegal immigrants, who are American to the core, citizenship if they go to college or serve in the military.
The dream is most unlikely to be realized in the new compassionless Congress. Its anti-immigrant proclivities are as deep as they are un-American.
Jake Highton teaches journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org