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.