Repeal of ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell:’ A civil rights milestone?

(AP Photo)

Allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the U.S. military is a step toward equality, advocates say, but a fight for other social changes such as gay marriage still lies ahead.

The Senate voted Saturday to end the 17-year ban on openly gay troops, overturning the Clinton-era policy known as “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

“It’s one step in a very long process of becoming an equal rights citizen,” said Warren Arbury of Savannah, Ga., who served in the Army for seven years, including three combat tours, before being kicked out two years ago under the policy. He said he planned to re-enlist once the policy is abolished.

“Even though this is really huge, I look at it as a chink in a very, very long chain,” he added.

The ruling drew quick rebuke from foes of lifting the ban who argued that the military shouldn’t be used to expand the rights of gays and that allowing them to serve openly would hurt troop morale and a unit’s ability fight.

Supporters declared the vote a civil rights milestone.

Aaron Belkin, director of the California-based Palm Center — a think tank on the issue — said the vote “ushers in a new era in which the largest employer in the United States treats gays and lesbians like human beings.”

For thousands of years, he said, one of the key markers for first-class citizenship in any nation is the right to serve in the military, and Saturday’s vote “is a historic step toward that.”

Repeal means that for the first time in U.S. history, gays will be openly accepted by the military and can acknowledge their sexual orientation without fear of being discharged. More than 13,500 service members have been dismissed under the 1993 law. Before that, they had been explicitly barred from military service since World War I.

The change won’t take immediate effect, however. The legislation says the president and his top military advisers must certify that lifting the ban won’t hurt troops’ fighting ability. After that, there’s a 60-day waiting period for the military.

Some supporters of the repeal traveled to Washington to witness the vote, including Sue Fulton, a former Army captain and company commander who is spokeswoman for Knights Out, a group of 92 gay and lesbian West Point graduates who are out and no longer serving.

Driving home to North Plainfield, N.J., the 51-year-old Fortune 500 executive said she thinks the repeal will have an effect on the civil rights of gays in America.

“As more people realize that gay and lesbian citizens are risking their lives to defend this country, perhaps they’ll be more willing to acknowledge gays and lesbians as full citizens in other ways,” she said.

Conservative organizations said the vote didn’t reflect the sentiments of rank-and-file military members and should not have taken place so close to the end of the current session of Congress.

“The issue that really disturbs me more than anything else is that legislation that’s controversial tends to be done in lame-duck sessions when a number of the elected representatives are no longer accountable to the people,” said Len Deo, president of the New Jersey Family Policy Council.

The Massachusetts Family Institute blasted Senate Republicans, including Sen. Scott Brown, who broke rank with their party on the vote.

“(They) made a vow not to vote on ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ until the budget was resolved and they broke trust with the people,” said the group’s president, Kris Mineau. “In doing so, they not only have put special interests above fiscal interests but also have put our troops at risk during wartime.”

In New York, home to one of the nation’s largest gay communities and a gay pride parade whose grand marshal this year was an openly gay, discharged serviceman, 28-year-old Cassandra Melnikow glanced at a news ticker in Times Square announcing the repeal and said: “Excellent! It’s about time.”

“I don’t see what difference (sexual orientation) makes in the fighting military,” said Melnikow, a public health researcher. “What’s the big deal?”

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Associated Press writers Russ Bynum in Savannah, Ga., Jay Lindsay in Boston, Geoff Mulvihill in Trenton, N.J., Sudhin Thanawala in San Francisco and Stan Lehman in Sao Paulo contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press

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5 Responses to "Repeal of ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell:’ A civil rights milestone?"

  1. Carl Nemo  December 19, 2010 at 7:08 pm

    Yeah, great! Too bad these folks aren’t as rabid about repealing the “Patriot Act” and forcing the issue about feathering back DHS and TSA concerning their creeping police state methods… / : |

    Wait until some knuckledragging, troglodyte homophobes kill or maim their fellow service people that have proclaimed their status and foollishly strut their stuff because they are now ‘legal’. That’s my main concern for them; i.e., the hazards associated with such status.

    I’ve witnessed people that I thought were reasonable and level headed go ‘screaming yellow zonkers’ nuts when the subject of gays come up; so bad that it made me jump back and simply think what in the hell is their problem? Most likely it’s an overdose of bible-thumpin’, self-righteous Christianity that’s turned them into intolerant “haters”.

    Carl Nemo **==

    • griff  December 21, 2010 at 6:47 pm

      So much for the whole “love thy neighbor” thing and the old “do unto others” thing, eh Carl? Ha. Must have gotten lost in all the paperwork.

      These are the issues that drive their respective bases to the polls. Emotion. In my opinion, both sides are guilty of using this issue to drum up votes, and little else.

      The Democrats portray themselves as advocates of the gay community. I’m sure that, while Democrats would tend to be more tolerant than Republicans naturally, the only thing they truly care about is votes. Gaining and keeping Power.

      Ditto for the Republicans and their courtship with the religious right. Hell, there are probably more gay Republicans than there are Democrats, they just hate themselves more for it.

      And you can’t have the Ying without the Yan. This entire Hegelian system is based on having only two sides to every equation. No more, no less. And in true Hegelian fashion, we’ll find out that this “solution” will only bring about more arguments, the need for both sides to dig in deeper, and the need for more solutions to problems they themselves create and promulgate. Nothing is ever settled.

      It is too bad that people don’t get this upset over the real important issues. I don’t see how being robbed on a daily basis by your government doesn’t manage to stir such feelings.

      I think you raise an interesting and often ignored point about this. The whole idea about forcing people to accept some thing, whatever the cause of the opposition, rarely does any thing but stir up animosity between the groups.

      Respect for the individual. To paraphrase Dr. King, judge not by one’s sexual orientaion, but the content of one’s character.

      I think DADT was the best policy. Live and let live. What the hell is the problem with that? We really should learn to just mind our own f**king business for a change. I don’t think this will do our military any good.

      And don’t think that many of these gay rights groups don’t enjoy instigating either. I have seen so many of them admit as much..

      As for me, I could give a rat’s ass about any of it. I see this for what it is.

  2. Sandune  December 20, 2010 at 12:22 pm

    Carl, the term “openly gay” is an interesting use of English. It made me think that my being openly hetero must be a danger to some group…..no?

    Yes, indeed; the Patriots Act is firmly set in cement in America. From reading more books on our overzealous fear of terrorists had been in the works long before 9/11. It started during the Korean War and would have taken out Vietnam had not the people with the vote demanded that we stop killing off others. I was part of the MIA-POW missing soldiers and used my bookstore (1983) to demand action from the House and Senate. I represented many pissed off women. There is no end to the violence that Americans demand from our government.

    You are quite correct when you state that homophobia comes from the Christians. Every sexual act must produce a fetus. My greatest fear is for some ultra-religious Republican to run against President Obama in 2012 and win. I attended the Republican Convention in 1996 in San Diego and was horrified when a Congressman from Tucson got up to speak and the Texas Delegation hissed and booed him until he sat down. He did not run for reelection. I was sitting with an old time-republican who had nothing to say about this rudeness. I stood up and walked out.

    Little has changed in America and the religious GOP will always hate others who are different. Apparently the masses are not pissed-off enough to change their silly ways. My hope is that maybe the next generation will be more open to the differences that we all enjoy.

    I’m packing for my flight to California for Christmas with the other members of the family. I will be looking at a lovely mobile home in Rancho Mirage (Palm Springs) as I am having a problem with steps and trying to keep this house in order. I will not miss Sun City. Merry Christmas to all at CHB and Reader Rant.

    Carl, you are an asset to CHB.

    Sandy

    • Carl Nemo  December 20, 2010 at 12:57 pm

      Thankyou Ms. Price for the compliment.

      Merry Christmas to you and yours! I hope your holiday trip turns out to be a happy and safe event. : )

      Best regards always,

      Carl Nemo **==.

  3. bmclellan  December 21, 2010 at 9:26 pm

    I would bet that the major cause of the homophobes anger is that bi-sexual reflection in the mirror they refuse to admit exists.
    Examples of such behavior are rife within our halls of governance, as in those who smelt it dealt it.

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