Newsflash: Asked and Told

Only a little over a week after President Obama formally declared the end of combat in the seven-year Iraq war, the home front is celebrating the possible close of another era: the 17-year reign of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Yesterday, federal judge Virginia A. Phillips in California ruled the policy an unconstitutional violation of due process and free speech, writing:

The ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ act infringes the fundamental rights of United States service members in many ways… [it has a] direct and deleterious effect….

DADT became law in 1993 under President Bill Clinton, who agreed to the policy as a compromise after pledging to repeal all laws barring gay and lesbians from serving in the armed forces. DADT allowed gay and lesbian soldiers to serve–provided they did not disclose their sexual orientation.

Since the policy was enacted, more than 13,000 servicemembers have been discharged, despite a shortage of troops and despite some of these soldiers possessing critical skills, such as medical expertise and fluency in Farsi and Arabic. Moreover, the policy has disproportionately affected women and minorities; according to Defense Department data compiled in 2008 by Servicemembers United, 34 percent of those discharged were women, although women make up only 14 percent of the military. Similarly, 45 percent of those discharged were minorities, while minorities represent only 30 percent of the forces.

R. Clarke Cooper, the executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, the gay-rights advocacy group that served as plaintiffs in the case, said in a statement yesterday, “Today, the ruling is not just a win for the Log Cabin Republican servicemembers, but all American servicemembers.”

Other gay and lesbian rights groups across the country are celebrating the ruling. The Human Rights Campaign issued the statement:

Today a federal judge affirmed what the vast majority of the American people know to be true — that it’s time for the discriminatory “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” law to be sent to the dustbin of history.

Alexander Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United–a national organization of lesbian and gay troops and veterans and the only named injured party in the court case–said:

I am exceedingly proud to have been able to represent all who have been impacted and had their lives ruined by this blatantly unconstitutional policy. We are finally on our way to vindication.

The next step in this march toward “vindication” is a congressional repeal of the policy. The repeal of DADT has been attached to the Defense Authorization bill, which the Senate is expected to vote on before November. If passed, the repeal would still be contingent upon signatures from the President, the Secretary of Defense and the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as the completion of a study by the Pentagon. President Obama has said that he approves of the repeal and will sign it into law.

ABOVE: Sgt. Leonard Matlovich’s headstone in Congressional Cemetery. Matlovich was the first servicemember to challenge the military’s stance on gay and lesbian soldiers in court. Photo by Flickr user dbking under Creative Commons 2.0.


  1. PART 1: Thank you for remembering the historic legal challenge to the ban on gays in the military by my late friend, Leonard Matlovich. However, respectfully, I must correct a factual error. While originally imagining that his "test case" might reach the Supreme Court, it never did as lower courts ruled against his constitutional challenge. Frustrated with the Air Force's refusal to explain why they had not applied a then-available "exception" to Leonard, a District judge ordered them to reinstate him if he chose. After fighting them for five years, Leonard realized that they would probably readmit him and then trump up some other reason to discharge him, he, as some others have, accepted their financial settlement.

  2. PART 2: Note, the "death of DADT" is not certain even should the latest amendment pass and be signed by the President. It only ALLOWS for repeal IF the President, Secretary of Defense, and Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sometime after the Pentagon "study" regarding implementation is finished [promised by December 1st], certify in writing to Congress that repeal would not hurt military readiness, etc., and that they have an implemenation plan to do that. Even IF they do, "repeal" will not happen for another 60 days. Worst of all, unlike the abandoned "Military Readiness Enhancement Act," "repeal" no longer EQUALS an end to discharges. There is nothing in the "compromise amendment" that would REQUIRE them to EVER end. In the worst case scenario, the Pentagon then, or at anytime in the future could simply go back to some version of their pre-DADT, decades-old internal policies that resulted in the discharges of well over 100,000. Thank you for your attention.

  3. Laura Gottesdiener says:

    Dear Michael,

    Thank you for your attention to detail. I have been reading your website all morning, and it is exceptionally informative. Thank you for pointing out the correction about Matlovich, which I will change immediately. I also agree that the clause in the latest amendment allowing for the repeal of DADT is frustrating and likely to result in months or years delay by the time the Pentagon study has concluded and the President, Secretary of Defense and Chair of JCS have all signed off on the repeal. I will amend my language to make it clear that this legal victory is by no means a conclusive death blow to the policy but rather an important milestone. Again, thank you for bringing your expertise to our blog.

    Laura Gottesdiener

  4. "Only a little over a week after President Obama formally declared the end of combat in the seven-year Iraq war,"

    As the death of 2 US soldiers (nine more wounded) demonstrated, the combat mission is not over. That's also clear in today's NYT article by Timothy Williams or in Marjorie Cohn's essay up at ZNet.

    The Iraq War isn't over and Friday's New York Times carried the story of Joe Biden explaining how the US might keep the military in well past 2011.

  5. Mychel Hartdige says:

    I believe that gay and lesbians should be allowed to express their sexuality. They were given a voice just like the rest of the world; people just decide to silence and ignore them. With repealing this act, it will give a chance for them to express themselves for the way they are in serving our country. God created us as people to not judge anyone based on their sexuality, race, or the way they look or act. I hope that as the future keeps on coming that we can accept the way people are in a way that is loving and non-judgmental.

  6. Darren Curtis says:

    interesting photo

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