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Jim Webb's DADT Mistake

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The U.S. Congress is moving towards a repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy which keeps gay and lesbian service members in the closet lest they be discharged from duty. It's about time.

On May 28, the House passed an annual Pentagon policy provision that "would allow the Defense Department to end the ban 60 days after military leaders receive a report on the ramifications of openly gay and lesbian soldiers and certify that doing so would not disrupt the armed forces," according to the New York Times.

The previous day, the Senate Armed Service Committee had passed the measure, which will go to the full Senate floor soon.

In the Senate Committee, one Republican supported the bill -- Susan Collins of Maine. Kudos to her.

But, to my disappointment, a lone Democrat -- Senator Jim Webb of Virginia, a Vietnam veteran -- opposed the bill, citing Pentagon reluctance. He doesn't believe that Congress should make such a move until after the Pentagon completes its study.

Both the Pentagon and Senator Webb are wrong to want to delay the repeal.

Until DADT is repealed, gays and lesbians in the U.S. military are second-class soldiers. They do not have the freedom of speech and freedom of expression that their straight colleagues enjoy. They are forced to live a lie. And no one can perform at his or her best under those circumstances, so it's the military -- and this country -- that ultimately suffer as well. In that regard, today's U.S. military might represent the home of the brave, but certainly not the land of the free -- unless you're heterosexual.

And leaving it up to the Pentagon is wrong. It's like Republican Senatorial candidate Rand Paul's criticism of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 per his belief that businesses should be free to discriminate as they see fit. The backlash against Paul's position was strong, and came from all sides of the political spectrum. Why no similar backlash against the lawmakers and Pentagon officials who can't quite admit that it's also very wrong to discriminate on the basis of whom you happen to be attracted to?

In passing the Civil Rights Act, the government didn't do a study to determine whether or not the White majority in business and public institutions would have difficulty -- logistically or philosophically -- with giving blacks equal treatment. No, the Congressional majority just went ahead and passed it because it was the right thing to do.

Similarly, Congress today is wrong to have included in its legislation the provision that delays a DADT repeal until after the Pentagon study is complete. But, given the current political climate, I suppose that compromise was probably the best they could do.

I'd like to see an immediate repeal. And, until that happens, I would like to see a Presidential order suspending any further discharges of service members under DADT.

But that's just me speaking from the conscience. In Washington, on the other hand, it's not about conscience, just politics. And that is why social progress will always be an uphill battle.

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Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, with a focus on politics, human rights, and social justice. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views (more...)
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