Since Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) was signed into law in 1993, the military has discharged nearly 14,000 troops. This controversial law was repealed and it officially lost its effect on September 20, 2011.
DADT prohibited military and appointed officials from asking or requiring military members to reveal their sexuality. However, individuals could still be discharged from the military if it were learned that they were homosexual or bisexual.
In 1950, Congress established the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), setting forth the policies and procedures for the discharge of service members. Under Department of Defense Directive 1332.14, homosexual people were deemed incompatible with military service and they were discharged. According to the United States Code, the ban was premised on the belief that homosexual people “would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability.”
In 1993, Congress included text in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1994 that required the military to follow regulations identical to past ones that absolutely banned homosexual people from the military. The purported reason for the compromise was concern for homosexual personnel who had faced severe and sometimes fatal beatings. However, also during this time, the National Defense Research Institute prepared a study on behalf of the Office of the Secretary of Defense. The study, Sexual Orientation and U.S. Military Personnel Policy: Options and Assessment, concluded that “circumstances could exist under which the ban on homosexuals could be lifted with little or no adverse consequences for recruitment and retention” if policies were implemented carefully. In Congress, Democratic Senator Sam Nunn led a coalition that supported the absolute ban of homosexual people from the military. Democratic Congressman Barney Frank favored modification of the rules; however, he ultimately voted to defend the bill that included language banning homosexual people. Retired Republican Senator Barry Goldwater supported a full repeal of the language banning homosexuality. President Bill Clinton signed the controversial Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy into law in 1993 as a compromise; giving all individuals the opportunity to serve in the military, regardless of sexual orientation, but also permitting the military to discharge an individual once it was discovered that he or she was homosexual or bisexual.
In December 2010, a bill was introduced in Congress to repeal DADT, it specified that DADT would remain in place until the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff certified that repeal would not harm military readiness. On July 6, 2011, a federal appellate court barred continued enforcement of the military ban of openly gay service members. The President, Secretary of Defense, and Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff submitted the required certification to Congress on July 22, 2011, setting the official end date for DADT to September 20, 2011. On September 30, 2011, Department of Defense Instruction 1332.14 was revised. The revision included “Change 3,” deleting “homosexual conduct” as grounds for administrative separation from the military.
Based on a December 2010, Washington Post-ABC News poll, 77 percent of Americans supported allowing individuals to serve in the military regardless of their sexual orientation. The results of this poll crossed all political and ideological lines, including democrats, republicans, independents, liberals, conservatives, white evangelical protestants, and nonreligious individuals. All favored giving homosexual people the opportunity to serve their country. Further, in a survey of more than 400,000 service members and 150,000 military spouses, more than 70 percent believed that the integration of homosexual people into the military would be positive, mixed, or of no consequence.
When the repeal was finally enacted, an uproar of positivity arose across the nation. Many service members felt free enough to declare their sexual orientation. Others decided not to declare their sexual orientation and remained private. One U.S. service member serving in Germany posted a video on YouTube calling his father in Alabama to inform his father for the first time that he was gay.
“Can I tell you something? Will you love me, serious?” asks the service member, who uses the moniker “areyousurprised” on Twitter and Facebook.
“Dad, I’m gay,” the service member says, his voice dropping. “I always have been, I’ve known since forever, and uh, I know I haven’t seen you in like a year, and I don’t know when’s the next time I’m going to be able to see you, I didn’t want to tell you over the phone, I wanted to tell you in person.”
The father assures his son that he still loves him, who then smiled and said he still needed to tell his mother. The service member says in the video that he has waited for more than four hours before deciding to call his father with the news.
Several service members also flew to states that allow homosexual marriage and were able to get married to their partner without fear of losing their job in the military.
However, the fight for equality still has not ended and more can be done. First, as noted by Senator Carl Levin, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, there must be work with the Pentagon to give those who were previously expelled from the military the option to return; and, most importantly, the option to expunge any negative records they may have received due to being homosexual. Currently, the Pentagon has no plan for an accelerated reenlistment process for those discharged under DADT.
Furthermore, due to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which disallows homosexual marriages, partners or spouses of homosexual military personnel still do not receive any benefits from the military. These individuals cannot live on base while their spouse or partner is deployed and they will not have access to any family support groups.
While some do not agree with the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, for many, this repeal is a victory for human equality and anti-discrimination.