Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is Gone, but Barriers to Gay Inclusion Remain

Shay O'Reilly
September 23, 2011

After eight months of preparation and years of activist labor, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is finally history.

It’s been a long road, and a road that isn’t yet over for many gay and lesbian service members whose spouses and partners, thanks to the Defense of Marriage Act, will still be denied benefits.

While President Obama campaigned on repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, progress was torturously slow—it was only last year’s lame duck session that saw the repeal of the policy, after shrewd politicking in the Senate. 

And once the repeal was ordered, it took a six-month preparation period, requested by Pentagon and military officials, before certification on July 22. Then there was the 60-day waiting period. DADT’s lingering death drew criticisms from some advocates, including the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, who doubted the necessity of the training and protracted preparations.

The pre-repeal training focused on professional respect, evading any questions of personal belief. Along with presentations, sample scenarios presented issues that might be faced following the repeal; military officials were reminded that under the new policy, codes of conduct would apply to all personnel, gay or straight.

After all that, the policy is finally gone.

For many service members and their partners, this means no longer having to hide existing relationships—a Marine can tell his boyfriend on the phone that he loves him without having to use a code. Service members polled by OutServe showed an overwhelming confidence in their colleagues; two-thirds expected that they would be “universally” or “generally” treated with respect.

While service members in same-sex marriages need no longer worry about wedding pictures ending their military career, the Defense of Marriage Act prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage—barring same-sex spouses from receiving military benefits. While they will have access to social events, they will not have access to base housing for heterosexual married couples, health insurance, military ID cards, or anything else offered to heterosexual spouses.

“This creates a glaring stratification in the disbursement of support services and benefits,” said Army Reserve Capt. R. Clarke Cooper, who is also the executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans. The military hierarchy will be forced to treat legally married gay spouses different from straight ones, contradicting the pre-repeal training that invokes professionalism and nondiscrimination.

Luckily, some activists are predicting that the repeal of DADT will make the assault on DOMA easier, particularly since the Obama administration has pledged not to defend the act in court.

“Soldiers who are transferred from a state that recognizes same-sex marriage to one that does not will have potential legal claims if they lose benefits due to the transfer,” wrote attorney Leslie Fenton in December 2010. If DOMA falls—and its time may well be up—homosexual married couples in the military would be treated exactly like heterosexual married couples, allowing the military to practice the egalitarianism that it now enshrines in policy.

The Family Research Council and a few Republican congressmen grasped for a last-minute delay of the repeal. The Department of Defense is not expected to respond, finalizing the repeal once and for all and allowing LGBT advocates to breathe a sigh of relief—and slight disbelief that the marathon against DADT is finally over.

Shay O'Reilly is a staff writer with Campus Progress. Follow him on Twitter @shaygabriel.

This article was created by Campus Progress.