# Don't Ask Don't Tell

Marriage equality anniversary thread

One year ago today, the Iowa Supreme Court’s Varnum v Brien ruling went into effect. From April 27, 2009 through the end of last year, at least 1,783 same-sex couples received marriage licenses in Iowa. The real number is probably higher, because about 900 marriage licenses did not specify the gender of the couple involved. Despite a petition drive led by some Iowa Republicans and the Iowa Family Policy Center, not a single county recorder denied a marriage license to a same-sex couple.

Although all three Republican candidates for governor say they want to overturn the Varnum v Brien ruling, marriage equality is probably here to stay. Conservative groups are not urging voters to pass a ballot initiative calling for a constitutional convention, which would be the quickest path to amend the Iowa constitution. Bob Vander Plaats probably won’t win the Republican nomination for governor, much less the November election, and even if he did, his plan to halt gay marriage by executive order is a non-starter.

That leaves the self-styled defenders of traditional marriage one path: approving an amendment restricting marriage rights in two separately elected Iowa legislatures, then convincing a majority of Iowans to vote for that amendment (in November 2014 at the earliest).

Republicans have an outside shot at winning a majority in the Iowa House in 2010, but they have virtually no chance of taking back the Iowa Senate this year. Democrats currently hold a 32-18 majority in the upper chamber. A net gain of four or five seats is the best-case scenario for the GOP, and I consider a net gain of two or three seats much more likely. That leaves Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal in a position to block all efforts to bring a constitutional amendment on marriage to a floor vote during the 2011 and 2012 legislative sessions.

Gubernatorial candidate Rod Roberts claims he could force Democrats to allow a marriage vote. His plan is to veto all legislation, including the state budget, until the Iowa House and Senate have voted on a marriage amendment. I doubt a Republican could win that game of chicken even if Governor Chet Culver is defeated this November. Polling indicates that most Iowans are not eager to ban gay marriage and think the state legislature has more important things to do. Anyway, the most likely Republican nominee, Terry Branstad, has an incoherent position on gay marriage and probably would make only a token effort to get a constitutional amendment passed.

Share any thoughts about same-sex marriage in Iowa in this thread.

Speaking of civil rights, some reports indicate that the House of Representatives will vote this year to repeal the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which has ended far too many military careers. Click here to read a moving open letter to President Obama from an Air Force major who was discharged under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

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Year in review: national politics in 2009 (part 1)

It took me a week longer than I anticipated, but I finally finished compiling links to Bleeding Heartland's coverage from last year. This post and part 2, coming later today, include stories on national politics, mostly relating to Congress and Barack Obama's administration. Diaries reviewing Iowa politics in 2009 will come soon.

One thing struck me while compiling this post: on all of the House bills I covered here during 2009, Democrats Leonard Boswell, Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack voted the same way. That was a big change from 2007 and 2008, when Blue Dog Boswell voted with Republicans and against the majority of the Democratic caucus on many key bills.

No federal policy issue inspired more posts last year than health care reform. Rereading my earlier, guardedly hopeful pieces was depressing in light of the mess the health care reform bill has become. I was never optimistic about getting a strong public health insurance option through Congress, but I thought we had a chance to pass a very good bill. If I had anticipated the magnitude of the Democratic sellout on so many aspects of reform in addition to the public option, I wouldn't have spent so many hours writing about this issue. I can't say I wasn't warned (and warned), though.

Links to stories from January through June 2009 are after the jump. Any thoughts about last year's political events are welcome in this thread.

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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.

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Obama needs to keep his word on Don't Ask, Don't Tell

At Daily Kos and VetVoice, Brandon Friedman of VoteVets brings us the news that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has authorized a new pilot program allowing the armed forces to recruit “up to 1,000 foreigners who have lived in the states legally for at least two years” and who have medical and language skills that are “vital to the national interest.”

As Friedman points out, the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy led to 3,715 troops being discharged between 2002 and 2006. Clearly, many of those people had been trained as doctors, nurses and linguists. (Friedman profiles one person who falls into each category.) In 2007 alone, 58 gay Arabic-language speakers were forced to leave the U.S. armed forces.

It makes no sense for the military to recruit foreigners to do jobs Americans are willing and able to do. Barack Obama has promised to end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Aubrey Sarvis, who heads the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, says he is confident Obama will keep that promise. But last month Sarvis indicated Obama may wait several months or even until 2010 before asking Congress to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Whether a delay is smart politics is debatable. Perhaps finding consensus on other issues first is important. Perhaps packaging the repeal as part of a larger bill on military staffing makes sense. Punting this move until an election year may or may not be wise. Although a majority of Americans support allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military, the issue has the potential to rile up the Republican base.

But the need for the military to have sufficient skilled personnel should trump all political arguments. If Obama is serious about being pragmatic (putting policy above political considerations), then he and his defense secretary cannot justify recruiting foreigners to do jobs Americans can do. Remember, these medical and language skills are “vital to the national interest.”

Your move, President-elect Obama.  

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