A new-age civil rights struggle

Mischa Olson

Thirteen-thousand people answered the call. Thirteen-thousand people stepped up and put their lives on the line to defend our country. And yet these 13,000 people were told “no.” They were told they aren’t good enough, that they’d cause too much trouble.

These Americans were discharged from the armed services due to their sexual orientation. The “don’t ask, don’t tell” statute, in place since 1993, allows gays and lesbians to serve in the military provided they keep their sexual orientation a secret.

Now, admittedly, there have been examples of the policy being abused. A handful unscrupulous soldiers have been discharged under the policy purposely in order to avoid serving their full commitment. However, these disgusting cases are few and far between.

Senate Republicans used a filibuster to defeat a vote Tuesday that would have opened a debate on a version of the 2011 defense authorization bill that included an amendment to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” statute. Senator Scott Brown, R-Mass., echoed the sentiments of many Republicans when he said his vote against considering the bill was not necessarily an endorsement of keeping the policy, but rather a protest against partisan, political tactics to limit debate by adding unrelated amendments.

This is a defense bill. An amendment that would repeal a statute that unconstitutionally prevents some Americans from serving in the armed forces is clearly a related defense amendment. It’s an amendment President Barack Obama made a priority in his January State of the Union address. And it’s an amendment a majority of Americans are in favor of passing, according to many recent polls. Again, it’s an amendment that fixes something in current defense legislation that’s unconstitutional.

Other Republicans — John McCain notably among them — have excused their votes by saying the Defense Department is coming out with a report on “don’t ask, don’t tell” in early December, and the vote should wait until then.

Well, I’m here to add my voice to Meghan McCain’s — the senator’s daughter — and to the chorus of Americans saying 17 years is too long, and this statute needs to be repealed now. As Meghan said, we need to “promote dialogue in this country.” And voting against opening a debate because you don’t like the other party’s tactics doesn’t seem to be a good first step.

By saying they want to wait for the report, Republicans appear to be calling for an informed debate. However, enough evidence was already made available for a federal judge to rule the statute unconstitutional.

Also, and quite ironically, beneath the surface this move has large partisan implications. A debate in early December would be during a lame-duck session of Congress, after the midterm elections. This would give the bill a much smaller chance at being successful, and “don’t ask, don’t tell” will continue to be the military’s policy on sexual orientation.

Not only is the policy wrong, we can’t seem to have an honest debate as to why it’s wrong, and why it’s stuck around for so long. Homosexual people have just as much a right to serve their country as heterosexual people. As the Chief of Military History, Brigadier General James L. Collins, Jr wrote in 1980 about the racial integration of the armed services, “traditional attitudes toward minorities must give way to democratic concepts of civil rights.”

My roommate phrased it perfectly, “We don’t pander to racist people. Why should we pander to those who are homophobic?”