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Rahmat Gul/AP

Obama Administration Firm on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Reversal

January 13, 2009 02:05 PM
by Christopher Coats
After months of speculation about how the administration would approach the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military enlistment policy, the transition team offered the clearest signal that the rule would be abolished.

Firm But Unclear on Timing

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During the second edition of the Obama Transition Team’s Open for Questions series of YouTube videos, incoming Press Secretary Robert Gibbs offered a one-word answer to the question of whether the administration still planned to abolish the policy: “Yes.”

The Clinton-era rule states that a soldier can’t be asked if they are gay, but if they are found to have “engaged in sexual conduct with a member of the same sex” they can be removed from service. It has been a source of controversy since first proposed in 1993.

Although gay rights activists vigorously fought for a full reversal of an earlier rule stating that homosexuality was incompatible with the military, Bill Clinton faced strong opposition from members of Congress, namely Georgia Senator Sam Nunn. Though he viewed the rule as a compromise, some saw it as a step backward.

In place since 1993, the rule became a campaign issue in 2008 when then-candidate Barack Obama pledged to abolish it, though reports shortly after his win suggested that any changes to the policy would be long in coming and might not come at all.

Gibbs’ remarks addressed the possibility of the rule’s abolishment, but avoided a common point of contention in the ongoing debate surrounding the policy—timing.

Stating that they would need to develop a consensus within the military before pushing through any real changes, the president-elect has sidestepped the possibility of setting a firm calendar of events, leading some to suggest that the subject would not be broached until at least 2010.

Challenges: Congressional hurdles

Although faced with certain Congressional opposition and stark numbers from a Military Times survey showing that almost 15 percent of active servicemen would consider not reenlisting if the policy were abolished, many critics of DADT insist its abolishment will come sooner rather than later.

California Rep. Ellen Tauscher, who sponsored the bill that would repeal the policy, has said she expects a successful passage within the year, an outlook bolstered by a national poll taken last year that found that 75 percent of Americans believed gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve, versus 44 percent in 1993.

However, Massachusetts’ Rep. Barney Frank, has warned against pushing the change too quickly, telling The Washington Blade that he did not expect to see results until after the Iraq War had ended.

Regarding timing, the incoming administration has only specified that any decision would come after a full national security team is in place, but The Washington Blade did report that a member of his administration has denied reports that it would wait until at least 2010.

According to a New York Times report, regardless of past pledges or the administration’s intentions, their efforts may be hindered by the financial challenges facing the president-elect and his efforts to “avoid political distractions and focus on reversing the economic slide.”

“Although Mr. Obama has not publicly identified which priorities will have to wait, advisers and allies have signaled that they may put off … allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military,” wrote the Times’ Peter Baker.

Reaction: Possible support

Outside of Congress, Obama will likely find allies among at least some retired officers. Shortly after winning the presidency, Obama received a letter signed by more than 100 former officers arguing for the immediate repeal of DADT.

Further, the push to overturn the policy could be helped along by court cases challenging DADT on an individual basis.

“When you have an allegation that a major military policy is unconstitutional, that cannot be left hanging in the wind,” Steven Fitschen, president of the National Legal Foundation, a Christian advocacy group, told the American Bar Association Journal.

The policy has been challenged in court a number of times since 1993, though the Obama transition team has not signaled that they would support any future legal challenges to DADT on an individual basis or as an entire policy.
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