December 18th 2010 marked the "defining civil rights initiative of this decade," according to the Service Members Legal Defense Network; the day the last piece fell into place to overturn Clinton-era "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy towards gays and lesbians serving the US military.
Up until then, DADT was responsible for the dismissal of over 13,500 military service members since 1993, as well as continued discrimination toward valuable military service members who are homosexual.
Repeal of DADT means that for the first time in U.S. history, openly gay people may look towards serving in our U.S. military, with acknowledgement of their sexual orientation and without fear of reprisal, discharge from military service or legal consequences as a result.
Talented and dedicated individuals who may have been unable in the past can be hopeful about contributing their expertise and intelligence to our military without fear of discrimination but with the honor, distinction and acceptance deserved by all those brave military service members who proudly serve our country. Still, the change in the law will not automatically change the policy. Rather, the bill stipulates that the Pentagon develop procedures for ending DADT altogether, a process that could take months or years to complete.
SENATE MAJORITY OVERTURNED DADT
The Senate voted 65-31 to pass the repeal of DADT; with Republicans -- Sens. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mark Kirk of Illinois, John Ensign of Nevada, Richard Burr of North Carolina, and George Voinovich of Ohio -- joining 56 Democrats in support of the measure. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), the lead Senate sponsor of the bill, framed the issue as a civil rights imperative, calling the ban on gays in the military "inconsistent with basic American values."
The House of Representatives passed an identical version of the DADT repeal bill on Dec. 15, 2010, labeled Bill 250-175. President Obama, as expected, signed the repeal into action, illustrating his conviction that military heroism should be blind to sexual orientation, race, gender, religion, and creed.
MILITARY SERVICE MEMBERS IN FAVOR OF REPEAL
A year-long survey studying the impact of gays in the military and released Nov. 30, 2010, revealed that two-thirds of service members didn't think accepting openly gay service members would have a negative affect on troop morale, as initially feared. The study also polled military service members who suspected that they are already serving with a gay person, and 92 percent reported seeing no negative affect on their units' effectiveness.
This federal study was instrumental for Republicans who voted for repeal of DADT, confirming that political opposition based on fear of disruption to combat operations were exaggerated, and could be addressed by properly training military troops for the policy change towards gays in the military.
EFFECTIVE IMPLEMENTATION OF NEW MILTARY POLICY
How the military will implement the policy change allowing gays to serve in the military, and how long change will take to integrate into military custom, will continue to unfold.
According to Republican Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio, DADT repeal can be implemented by educating and training military service members in the new policy well before implementing widespread policy changes.
Under the bill, military advisers must be certain that the repeal of DADT will not in any way damage our troops' readiness and ability to serve. Senior Pentagon officials stated that the new policy could be rolled out incrementally, service by service or unit by unit, and may take months to take full effect.
THE FUTURE OF MILITARY READINESS
Advocacy groups, from the Service Members Legal Defense Network to the Human Rights Campaign, celebrated the DADT repeal as a significant step in the fight for civil rights and anti-discrimination law in the U.S.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was the first senior active-duty military officer to suggest that accepting openly gay service members would in fact support and strengthen military readiness now and for the future of our military. "No longer will able men and women who want toâ€¦ sacrifice for their country have to sacrifice their integrity to do so," Mullen said.
It is hoped that of openly accepting gay military service members will reverberate in the civilian world as well, resulting in greater tolerance of gays in the civilian world, similar to the effect of President Truman's 1948 order on racial equality in the military for Black Americans.