New urgency on repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell

President Barack Obama’s spokesman confirmed in January that the president is committed to ending the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which prohibits gay and lesbian soldiers from being open about their sexual orientation. The official White House website still promises to repeal this policy.

Congressional action is required to change Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and there have been some questions about whether Congress will get a bill on this to Obama’s desk during 2009.

The advance of marriage equality in Iowa and Vermont brings new urgency to the matter, as shown by a Des Moines Register story I’ve linked after the jump.

The Des Moines Register reports on the front page of Monday’s edition,

Gay and lesbian military service members who are legally married in Iowa can still be involuntarily discharged from the Iowa National Guard and other military branches under a federal law that prevents homosexuals from openly serving in the armed forces, military officials say.

The federal law, approved by Congress in 1993, takes precedence over the Iowa Supreme Court ruling in April that legalized same-sex marriage, according to legal experts. The ruling struck down Iowa’s Defense of Marriage Act, which had limited marriage to a man and a woman.

The Iowa National Guard is prevented from implementing the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling for its personnel because it is a federally recognized military organization, said Lt. Col. Gregory Hapgood Jr., the Iowa National Guard’s public affairs officer. […]

The federal law allows the military to discharge members who engage in or attempt to engage in homosexual acts, and those who state they are homosexual or bisexual. The law says that military life is fundamentally different from civilian life. It also says the prohibition against homosexual conduct is a long-standing element of military law that continues to be necessary in the unique circumstances of military service.

The ban on same-sex marriage by National Guard members and other military service personnel also applies in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont, the three other states with legalized same-sex marriage, said Emily Hecht, a lawyer for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a Washington, D.C., advocacy group dedicated to repealing the federal law. Same-sex marriage will be legal in Vermont as of Sept. 1.

In December I wrote that Barack Obama needs to keep his word on repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Some commenters in the thread at MyDD argued that it was prudent for Obama to proceed cautiously on this issue, so as not to repeat the mistakes of the Clinton administration in 1993.

Even if Obama doesn’t take the advice of former Clinton White House staffer Richard Socarides, who advocated “bold action” on behalf of gay Americans in this Washington Post op-ed, the least the president can do is urge Congress to move quickly on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Public opinion has shifted dramatically since 1993. Multiple national polls have shown large majorities in favor of allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military.

Servicemen and servicewomen should not be forced to choose between their jobs and exercising their civil marriage rights.

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