Log Cabins Successfully Fought Military Gay Ban - So Why Aren’t They Feeling the Love?

by Kilian Melloy
Thursday Sep 16, 2010

Gay conservative group the Log Cabin Republicans are the only LGBT equality organization to go to federal court with a suit against "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the military's ban on openly gay troops. Their federal suit, filed in 2004, recently yielded a verdict that the anti-gay ban is unconstitutional; moreover, the judge in the case, U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips, found that the policy, far from enhancing military readiness, has a "direct and deleterious effect" on the nation's armed forces--something that advocates for repeal of the ban have argued strenuously, perhaps most notably in Nathaniel Frank's book on the ban, Unfriendly Fire.

Since the ban went into effect in 1993, more than 13,000 servicemembers have been kicked out of the military--many of them, groups like Servicemembers Legal Defense Network say, with "mission critical skills" such as Arab language interpretation.

The LCR then embarked on the next step, asking that the judge order the military to stop discharging gay and lesbian troops--a process that, according to SLDN head Aubrey Sarvis, could take still more years, assuming that the current plan to retire the anti-gay ban following a year-long review process is not implemented. But, Sarvis added, the more immediate effect may be to signal Congress that the time has come to repeal the ban through legislative means. Already, the House has approved language that would do just that, and the measure is due to come up before the Senate later this month.

Given the results they have obtained, why have the Log Cabin Republicans reaped so little acclaim? Thus far, the group has been offered lackluster laurels at best. "We're pleased by the judge's decision, but this decision is likely to be appealed and will linger for years," a Sept. 9 posting at the SLDN website read. "Congress made the DADT law 17 years ago and Congress should repeal it. The Senate will have the opportunity to do just that this month and most Americans think the Senate should seize it.

"Kudos and congratulations to Log Cabin Republicans and Servicemembers United for bringing this important challenge," the posting added.

SLDN also took measures to protect gay and lesbian troops from getting carried away by the court victory or prematurely concluding that a legislative victory had been secured. SLDN posted a reminder that the anti-gay ban may have been found to violate the constitutional rights of America's fighting men and women--but that, even so, it remains in effect. Anyone in the armed forces who comes out as gay or lesbian will still face discharge under the law.

The issue seems all but decided in the court of public opinion. A recent survey found that three-quarters of Americans were in favor of allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly; Lady Gaga called for repeal of the ban during an appearance on Ellen Degeneres' talk show, and traded tweets with the campaign staff of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid about the issue. Reid announced that a Senate vote would take place the week of Sept. 20--though his spokesperson also said that the timing of the announcement, which came the day after Lady Gaga's interview was broadcast, was coincidental.

But when it comes to the LCR, recognition and media exposure seem elusive. Lady Gaga may have made a stand on Ellen, but left-wing MSNBC news host Rachel Maddow has yet to host Log Cabin head R. Clarke Cooper--himself an officer in the Army Reserves. That odd bit of news was revealed in a Sept. 15 story at Mediaite, in an article that noted that Maddow has declared herself "desperate to get Republicans" to appear on her program.

A Place on Right-Wing Airwaves...But Not Left?

Cooper says it's not for lack of trying. He told the news site that he'd been trying to get on Maddow's show, without luck. "I'm a little dumbfounded, quite honestly, by why she hasn't had us on," Cooper admitted, who has found the welcome mat out on the political right. "I can get on conservative talk radio and it has been very good at getting us on the air," Cooper noted.

The article took note of Cooper's gay conservative bona fides, recalling that he had served as an ambassador under George W. Bush, and also cited GLBT news writer Karen Ocamb, who expressed surprise at how little attended the suit against DADT was. The article wondered about this. Given the hot-button nature of the debate, how was it that the trial attracted so little notice?

One possibility is that the Log Cabin Republicans makes both the left and the right uncomfortable. Bob Dole famously returned a campaign contribution from the group; he later accepted the money once again, but his initial reaction spoke volumes about a cultural assumption that gays are necessarily Democratic--and Republicans anti-gay.

That is less and less the case these days, as Meghan McCain's outspokenly pro-GLBT stance and her resulting media star stature indicate. Still, there is no overlooking the fact that Megan's Senator father, two-time GOP presidential hopeful John McCain, had recently been threatening to hold up the coming Senate vote with a filibuster.

Another theory is that court proceedings relevant to Don't Ask, Don't Tell have less sway over the imagination of the media and the public than the efforts already undertaken by military leaders themselves and by lawmakers. At worst, the court case might be viewed as a distraction from the process of reform from within the military or in Congress--a theory that would seem to find some credibility in a letter from Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Mark Udall, both Democrats, urging that the verdict against DADT not be appealed by the Justice Department.

GLBT news site the Washington Blade reported Sept. 15 that Gillibrand and Udall wrote in a letter that, "Although we understand that only action by Congress can bring real finality to this issue, we believe an appeal of the recent federal court decision could set back those congressional efforts."

However, the letter also cited the verdict itself in arguing that an appeal would be against the nation's best interests. "The following quote from the judge's decision captures the overwhelming reason why the decision should stand," wrote Gillibrand and Udall. " 'Among those discharged were many with critically needed skills ... Far from furthering the military's readiness, the discharge of these service men and women had a direct and deleterious effect on this governmental interest.'

"As one of many criteria that the Justice Department will examine in deciding whether to appeal a potential permanent injunction to this policy, we ask that you examine whether or not an appeal furthers a legitimate governmental interest," the letter added. "We would say any appeal does not."

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.


  • , 2010-09-17 11:13:15

    I thank the Log Cabin Republicans and their lawyers for bringing this suit. If the Obama Democrats feel they have been pre-empted, too bad. They should be thanking the LCR for seizing the initiative and not waiting for a particular general or a particular president to decide "now the time is right." The White House already is waffling, saying the jet engine provision that may stay attached to the Defense bill will require a veto, regardless of the DADT piggyback. If that’s their strategy, they should have the guts to move a DADT standalone bill so we can find out clearly which legislators are for equality and which ones are siding with the bigots.

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