Senate should repeal 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'


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My friend Tim lost his job. My friend Simon is in danger of losing his job. They're both gay. They're both Iraq veterans. Tim was discharged under the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. Simon continues to serve and does his best to surreptitiously live with his partner. I think it is important to note that Tim did not "tell." A civilian minister with a vendetta told. Simon has no plans to "tell." But his brother has threatened to do so.

I have no stake in the military. I'm not a serviceman; none of my family is in the service. The inner workings of the U.S. armed forces do not affect my daily life in the least. Nevertheless, I was pleased by President Obama's charge to Congress, in his 2010 State of the Union Address, to repeal the antiquated and discriminatory law before the end of the year. It is past time to put an end to institutionalized discrimination. But now, just weeks before the president's deadline, I am beginning to doubt whether that will actually happen.

The law, which was created in 1993 and forces gays and lesbians in the military into the proverbial closet, was meant as a compromise. Previously, there was an outright ban on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender soldiers serving in the armed forces.

Our country has changed in the past 17 years. Certainly there is still much ground to gain, but based on most polls, the general population is in favor of the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Some leaders of the armed forces have stated their support of repeal, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. The House of Representatives has passed a bill that allows (not forces) the leaders of the armed forces to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. After a nine-month survey, the Pentagon recently concluded that getting rid of the ban carries a low risk of negatively affecting the military.

Given the support of the general public, enlisted and Reservist soldiers and military leadership, I'm left questioning why the Senate is having such a difficult time with this issue. I can understand waiting until the survey was completed. I personally disagreed, but now it's a moot point: The survey is out. It's completed. And, most importantly, it supports repeal.

The senator leading the charge against repeal is Arizona's John McCain. He filibustered the bill that included Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal, and all Republican senators followed suit, making it impossible for the Democrats to end the filibuster. In essence, Republicans voted against discussing the Defense Authorization Bill (the bill that funds the Pentagon) because it included the Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal (in addition to the Dream Act, but that's for another discussion).

The policy is on its last legs. It will end one way or another. Gates asked the Senate to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell before the courts do. By repealing through legislative means, the military has the option to set the course for how repeal will happen. If repeal is achieved through judicial action, it stands the chance to be immediate and absolute — far more disruptive than the orderly repeal guaranteed by the 10-month-long study the military just completed.

During Senate hearings, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz, who opposes repeal at this time, said "legislative action on this issue is far preferable to decision by the courts." The policy is going to end. The Senate has the ability to give the military the power to decide how it ends. So far it has chosen not to.

So why am I telling you all of this? You, more than likely, have a senator who was opposed to repeal before the study was released. You probably have a phone; at the very least, you have pen and paper. Your senators have phones and addresses. I think you see my point. Legislative repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell is a matter of national security, not just a matter of civil rights.

My friend Tim needs his job back. My friend Simon needs to be assured he will not lose his job.

Future gay and lesbian soldiers deserve the right to serve their country with integrity. It is our job to make sure they have that opportunity.

Bryan Brown is a Ph.D. student in the UI communication-sciences and disorders department.

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