Friday, September 19, 2008

What the Media Missed in a Plan for Repeal

Anyone who read the headlines this week about Senator Barack Obama's support for ending the federal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ban on lesbian, gay and bisexual troops may have come away with an (inaccurate) impression that the Democratic presidential candidate has punted the ball back to the armed forces when it comes to deciding the fate of the law. Obama Won't Repeal 'Don't Ask' on His Own, the Associated Press said, followed by a Philadelphia Inquirer headline declaring that Obama had said Go Slower on 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'

In truth, the headlines are a reflection of just how widely misunderstood the law is, and how bewildered much of the public has become about what steps must be taken to end the ban, and what steps should be included in a plan to welcome to lesbian and gay troops. Poll after poll shows that the public overwhelmingly supports ending "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," but press reports, and public statements, have left many to believe that there is an easy fix to the problem. Yet ending the ban, and ending it in the right way, requires more than one stroke of a pen, one wish of a president or one order to commanders in the field.

In contrast to what many people continue to believe, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" cannot be brought to an end by executive order. Congress codified the ban into law in 1993, and with that move, took away any ability for the commander-in-chief to single-handedly take it off the books. It was a shrewd, and sinister, action by lawmakers: In a virtually unprecedented move, Capitol Hill seized power to control military personnel policy and undermine the authority and discretion of the president, and military leaders, to make those decisions as they saw fit. In the process of doing so, they also ensured a long shelf life for a homophobic federal policy that has set the standard for how the government treats LGBT Americans.

Undoing all the damage that has been done will take much more than an easy fix.

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