Newspaper Reports: Obama Won’t Tackle Gay Troops Ban Right Away

by Kilian Melloy
Monday Nov 24, 2008

America's next president will not immediately tackle the question of lifting the ban on openly gay troops, says a Nov. 21 article in the Washington Times.

The article cited the President-elect's transition team, who, reported the Washington Times, indicated that it might not be until the year 2010--the year of the midterm elections--that Obama takes on the ban, which has been in place since the early years of the Clinton administration.

The article quoted the executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a group that supports gay and lesbian soldiers.

Said Aubrey Sarvis, "I think 2009 is about foundation building and reaching consensus."

Sarvis said that he and the transition team had enjoyed "informal discussions" about the issue of lifting the ban on gay troops serving openly.

Under current policies, gay and lesbian soldiers may serve in uniform only as long as they keep their sexual orientation a secret.

The article also quoted a Center for American Progress analyst, who opined that any push to lift the ban be couched in terms of numbers: how many uniforms are filled, versus how many active servicemembers the military needs to keep the nation's defense force strong and prepared.

Said Lawrence Korb, who is also an Obama campaign adviser, "If it's part of a larger package, it has a better chance of getting passed."

Early in his two-term tenure, President Bill Clinton sought to bring a policy of equality to the nation's armed forces, leading to a brouhaha and the current ban, known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Pursue," which was put into place by Congress.

Since then, the article reported, over 12,000 personnel have been discharged for being gay or lesbian.

Critics of the policy question its wisdom, given the strain placed on the nation's all-volunteer military since the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

Contemporary polls indicate that up to three-quarters of Americans favor abolishing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," but the question remains a hot-button topic among social conservatives, and taking the issue on too early in his presidency could cost Obama considerable political capital.

Still, Sarvis expressed confidence, being quoted by the Washington Times as saying, "I think the congressional results are a factor in our optimism."

The majority view that gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve in uniform might yet be countered by a campaign to change people's minds about the fitness of gays to serve their country, the article noted, quoting the Media Research Center's director of the Culture and Media Institute.

Said Robert Knight, "Homosexual activists are overconfident because they have not yet seen a counter-force emerge as occurred in 1993.

"But as the threat grows stronger, we will see groups forming and the resistance building."

Continued Knight, "Americans go about their business and are not activists until they have a Pearl Harbor moment.

"That has yet to happen, but it will."

Knight also opined that Americans "are unaware that gay activists have the military in their gun sights."

The article noted that the Human Rights Campaign includes a quote from President-elect Obama at the group's Web site in which Obama says, "The eradication of this policy will require more than just eliminating one statute."

Continued the quotation, "It will require the implementation of anti-harassment policies and protocols for dealing with abusive or discriminatory behavior as we transition our armed forces away from a policy of discrimination.

"The military must be our active partners in developing those policies and protocols."

The Washington Times noted that the thinking in 1993 was that gays serving openly might prove detrimental to unity cohesion and overall discipline, leading to a decline in military performance and, therefore, combat readiness.

Part of the text of the law barring gays and lesbians from open service states, "The presence in the armed forces of persons who demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability," the article quoted.

The article said that some opponents of lifting the ban worry that young conservatives and people of faith would avoid military service if they thought they were likely to serve alongside gays.

Others say that the ban is a mere formality, and that homosexuality is no longer a real barrier to service, or even a career, in the military.

However, some, like Knight, worry that should the ban be rescinded, gays in uniform would run wild.

The article quoted Knight as saying, "It's true that many in the military have looked the other way and served alongside people they know are into homosexuality.

"But that is with the ban in place. Open acceptance would change the atmosphere entirely."

Added Knight, "If fraternization is a problem now between men and women, imagine the conflicts with openly gay officers who no longer have to be reticent."

In any case, more pressing problems confront the new president, Sarvis said. "What's the reality for the new administration?" the article quoted him as saying.

"Financial crisis. Economic upheaval. Health care reform. Environmental challenges.

"Where does 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' fall in all this?" asked Sarvis. "I would say it is not in the top five priorities of national issues."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


  • , 2008-11-24 17:33:19

    Well! Guess he actually meant that we will be "hoping" for "change," but may not get it. Starting to feel used yet?

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