As often as the United States Senate fails to produce necessary and effective legislation, on Thursday, the body outdid itself. By failing to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, Senate Republicans (aided by Democrat Joe Manchin) promoted discrimination, compromised our security, and showed gross disrespect and negligence towards the men and women who have volunteered to defend our country, for the sake of winning petty political squabbles.
The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is not a liberal or conservative issue: it is an issue of equality. Although gay and lesbian service members have trained, fought and died in the military, although they volunteer to risk their lives so that we, sitting at home, don’t have to, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” tells them that they are less worthy of our respect than their straight cohorts. It spits on the sacrifices they have made.
Not only was this vote a blatant rejection of equality, it also showed the immense disrespect the senators hold for all the men and women in the United States armed forces. In their shameless obstructionism, Republican senators (and Joe Manchin) blocked the Defense Authorization bill which would provide pay raises, improved medical care, and additional equipment to the servicemen and women in Iraq and Afghanistan This is the first time in 48 years such a bill has been blocked. These senators care more about making sure that President Obama and the Democratic majority fail to accomplish anything than they do about protecting the soldiers that are currently risking their lives for our country.
Beyond issues of equality and respect, the senators in question put our nation’s security and the strength of our military at risk. Since “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was enacted in 1993, over 14,000 men and women have been discharged under its provisions, many of whom had critical skills such as Arabic and Farsi language abilities. Now, after seventeen years, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Pentagon and Defense Secretary Robert Gates--all of whom have considerable military expertise--recommend repeal. According to a commission including former defense secretaries and West Point faculty, enforcement of the law has cost the military over $350 million for recruitment and retraining. The Senate does not seem to understand that keeping “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in place not only insults and discriminates against those who wish to serve, but also deprives the military of critical troops and funds.
Despite Thursday’s setback, there is still a chance to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” before the Congress adjourns. Senators Susan Collins (who should be lauded as the only Republican to vote to repeal DADT on Thursday) and Joe Lieberman have introduced a standalone bill for repeal. Our senators must find the time to step away from their political posturing and do what’s right for our country.