Congress to gay troops: "maybe, someday, not our call."

By Eric Zimmerman of Clackamas, Oregon. Eric is an Iraq veteran who served as a Platoon Leader during Operation Iraqi Freedom 2009-2010.

Senator Lieberman’s amendment to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to add to the Defense Authorization Act is out. In summary it is a complete compromise on the part of all stakeholders if this amendment is enacted. No timeline, no policy change, no anti-discrimination legislation, nothing to enhance the readiness of the military, end discrimination, or offer equal treatment to service members within the military. Over at Towleroad you can find the text of the amendment. I’ve responded to some of the subsections. This issue needs young, active or recently active military personnel involved. The loud minority of service members against repealing the policy of discrimination receives far too much publicity and clout on an issue that is going to change- they are delaying the inevitable of right versus wrong.

I returned back to Oregon from my tour in Iraq in April 2010. Whether or not that gives me credibility to comment on the issue is for you to decide. What I know is that there is a significant disconnect between the young generation serving in uniform, the older generation leading at the brass levels, and the older generation governing our society. As someone who has served openly and closeted I insist that the repeal of discriminatory policies will enhance unit cohesion and military effectiveness.

The last sections of the amendment by Sen. Lieberman strike all concern for a timeline, implementation, and any actual substantive qualities of the effort to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Unfortunately there is no meat to this amendment and it quickly becomes a talking point rather than a policy change and a piece of anti-discrimination legislation. Would we have settled for such weak legislation, lack of timelines, and lack of implementation for any of the civil rights legislation of generations past? Absolutely not!

Contrast this amendment with racial civil rights legislation. Race would have remained a point of discrimination legally until the President of the United States, and members of his cabinet decided it was time to change. They would have received a report about implications; the report would have sat on their desk for weeks, months, years? Perhaps an entire term of the Presidency. Nothing in this bill holds decision-makers’ feet to the fire. Congress, who enacted the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policies of the early nineties, washes their hands of the issue. No longer are the individual representatives and senators who represent us responsive to us on this issue because this amendment puts power in the hands of the President, his Secretary of Defense, and his Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The President could of course replace the other two positions until he found people who would put their name to this policy change- but I don’t have that kind of confidence in the President’s agenda, nor should I. Politically, this issue does not warrant that kind of maneuvering. This is the right thing to do; it’s a matter of just doing it. The SECDEF and the CJCS are good at what they do, they shouldn’t be replaced for their lack of movement on the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. It shouldn’t be their decision at all. Congress needs to repeal the ban and the President needs to sign the repeal into law. Bottom line.

Here are my responses to some of the sections of the amendment propsed by Senator Lieberman.

A(2)(a)- Unit cohesion will increase because the imposed barriers between service members, who right now cannot without fear discuss personal matters, will be abolished. Fellow service members who have a desire to know their comrades in arms will be allowed to stop wondering why their friends never seem to give an honest answer or show up to social functions with anyone by their side. As for family readiness, the readiness of the family of a gay service member will significantly improve. As it stands today, gay families do not exist in the eyes of the military yet reality reflects that every deployment leaves family members at home of gay service members. These family members have zero support from the family groups and military support networks that straight families receive. The likelihood that gay service members would be better prepared for their duties overseas increases dramatically with the inclusion of their family in the scope of consideration that the military gives to straight families.

A(2)(b)- No change in consideration of straight service members or gay service members is necessary. Service members want one thing out of the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”- they want to be treated no better, no worse, just the same. This shoots directly at the main issue facing the military that is generally comprised of younger generation Americans; Homosexuality? Heterosexuality? Sexuality in general is a non-issue to this generation. To legislate false differences and lines in the sand imposes barriers that are not realistic to the younger generation of Americans serving.

A(2)(c)- Policies must reflect zero differences between homosexual service members and their counterparts in the service that are heterosexual. As for training and facilities consideration, any difference in the training or housing of homosexual service members would be a step further backwards than is the current reality for service members. Separate but equal is not an option. Anyone who considers separate housing, barracks, units, or requirements for a homosexual service member is more appropriately reflecting norms of centuries past and must be immediately stopped from furthering such discriminative language. All service members should receive and be eligible for the same benefits as their peers- regardless of sexuality. For example, an Oregon resident in the military pays Oregon taxes, can marry, can be in a domestic partnership, can be single. Just across the river, Washington has its own set of laws and taxes. Two soldiers in the Army, one from Oregon and one from Washington have significantly different tax burdens. Military members are subject to the laws of their resident state. The laws in Oregon or Washington aren’t perfect, but it is the federal government’s responsibility to honor the laws of Oregon and its citizens. If a homosexual service member from Oregon is in a domestic partnership (because marriage is illegal in Oregon) then Oregon grants that family certain benefits and rights. The military must ensure that the Department of Defense and the federal government grant those same rights and benefits. It is simple- no better, no worse, just the same.

A(2)(d)- There are outdated, antique traditions or laws in the Uniform Code of Military Justice. These must be brought into line with current operations and to reflect the non-discrimination of the military once the ban is repealed. Laws against sodomy for example cannot still exist if we are to treat all our service members equally. The rules dictating appropriate relationships in the military based on rank, position and service shall not be altered. Gay or straight- a relationship in the military has certain regulations by which it must abide.

A(2)(f)- The military has a training and enforcement program for a multitude of programs designed to enhance the workplace environment. Race, gender, sexism, religion, harassment as a whole, equal opportunity training is paramount to all military units. Anyone who serves today can testify to the fact that at a minimum every 6 months service members receive extensive training to ensure equal opportunity units. Of course this is aside from homosexuality- the military is first to advertise how wonderfully diverse it is except that it remains the only government organization with legal discrimination. If commanders feel their unit needs training to address concerns over harassment toward straight or gay service members then that is a commander’s prerogative to fix.

Again, over at Towleroad I get a great wrap up each day of the progress forward and the steps backward on this issue.

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    In the real world legislation gets passed with compromise. This is a compromise that will work, and just barely get the votes necessary to pass. Too bad it doesn't meet the purity requirements of some, but it will result in a change in the military and the lives of gay soldiers.

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      Bill, 78% of Americans believe that gays should be allowed to openly serve in the military. So exactly who do we need to compromise with?

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        Unfortunately, this is another example of the sharp knife vs. soft marshmallow metaphor.

        Most of the 78% of Americans who agree won't cast their vote based on how the member of Congress votes -- but many of the 22% who disagree will not only vote, but make donations, based on the vote.

        The sharp knife will always cut through the soft marshmallow. Even if the marshmallow is three times the size of the knife.

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      Has the ubiquitous "lesser of two evils" that the DPA has grown to love become so accepted that the alternatives are automatically naive, purity fetishes?

      As the Republicans continue to move to the right, I'm afraid the DPA have scoped out the middle ground, and if that means leaving the left behind, so be it.

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    I also encourage all veteran's to contact our representatives. The opposition to repeal of DADT is so full of bias and misinformation it is staggering. When I was a military intelligence officer before DADT we were told that preventing gay/lesbian soldiers from serving prevented security risks as they could be blackmailed. That rationale, just like all the supposed rationales for bias against gay/lesbian service members, was just a canard ( Now we are on to new "rationales". Its time the military was directed to end the culture of bias just as it had to be directed to end the bias against African-Americans and women in the past. It is vital that all of us veterans speak up, we carry some credibility that we must use to end this discrimination now.

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      On that note Alan and to enhance the conversation a bit- President Clinton ended the sexuality considerations for professionals in the intelligence business. The United States no longer considers homosexuality a risk to our intelligence community. I believe it was an Executive Order that abolished that old disqualifying characteristic.

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    While we attempt to solve problems like DADT, I like to remind people why we have discriminatory policies like DADT.

    The crusade against non-heterosexuals is almost entirely faith-based. It is religious people, groups, organizations, etc. who hold these bigoted beliefs and carry out these anti-gay campaigns. It’s the same story w/ sex ed, creationism in the classroom, stem-cell research, same-sex marriage, etc. It’s a brand of lunacy that’s impossible w/ out faith. Try to talk an atheist into flying a plane into a skyscraper and see how far you get. It’s not a coincidence that the least religious democracies have created the healthiest and happiest societies on Earth.

    One of the reasons the religious have so much influence on public policy in this country is because we generally shield religion and the religious from scrutiny. We essentially treat ideology like biology. Criticism of religion often brings accusations of bigotry. No ideology deserves safe haven from criticism in a democracy, no matter how popular, particularly those which are so powerful and unsupported.

    The current environment needs change if we want real progress. It’s not easy to progress in nation w/ millions of people who live their lives based on completely absurd ideas about the nature of reality.

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    All of this is a bunch of hand-wringing and complaining that life is not fair for gays. Well, when was it ever fair? Rather than celebrate that the end of DADT is in sight, which I believe is true come Dec. if this passes, we have here an attack on allies.

    Just because something polls well doesn't mean it's going to pass Congress. And don't forget that you need 60 votes these days to pass anything in the Senate. And if it doesn't pass this year, it will be another generation before it passes because the tea-bagger party of Ron Paul bigots will stand in the way. This post is equivalent to the gay guy that heckles the president at fundraisers. A great way to make enemies when you need to be making friends.

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    Republicans have confirmed they are filibustering the DADT repeal bill, even the compromise version. So unless you've got 60 votes, all of this talk about "no compromise"is just empty posturing.

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