UCSB and UCLA experts on the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy regarding gays in the U.S. military last week released a statement that aimed to correct what the researchers claimed were “misleading and inaccurate claims” by public officials, including President Barack Obama.
The corrections – released by a working group formed jointly by UCSB’s Palm Center, which focuses on sexuality in the military, and UCLA’s Williams Institute, which focuses on sexuality with regard to law and public policy – addressed issues of presidential authority. Whereas Obama claimed that “we cannot ignore the will of Congress,” the document counters that an order by Obama would be “an appropriate exercise of executive authority granted directly by Congressional statute.”
The statement, which address adherence to standing law and legislation and the effect that repeal of the policy would have on military families, reflect research done by the authors, who said that they want to inform the public rather than solely criticize the officials targeted.
The statement followed an earlier legal memo released by the Palm Center outlining the options available to the Pentagon – the Secretary of Defense in particular – for modifying the manner in which Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is enforced, before the Senate holds hearings on the ban this fall. In addition, on July 28, one day after the statement was released, Palm Center director Aaron Belkin released a report titled “A Self-Inflicted Wound: How and Why Gays Give the White House a Free Pass on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” outlining errors made by the public – most notably the gay community – that have eased pressure on the president to end military discharges of gay personnel and led to the fizzling of momentum that had previously indicated a change was coming.
Palm Center senior research fellow Dr. Nathaniel Frank said a lack of understanding is in large part to blame. “For years, most people in the gay community were operating under the assumption that in order to stop the discharges, Congress had to act,” he said, noting that it was this mistaken belief that prompted the Palm Center to release statements and legal memos to inform the debate. The Palm Center and the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell working group have been working to extinguish the erroneous perception that an executive option – flexing of the president’s stop-loss authority, for example – and a legislative option are mutually exclusive. Instead, the Palm Center report recommends that they both be pursued as part of a two-pronged strategy.
However, none of the center’s documents present any final or singular solution, said Frank. “The idea that this solution is pure and permanent is a myth; this is going to be a process no matter how you look at it,” he explained.
The proponents of the two-part strategy – executive action followed by a legislative repeal of the law – argued that the suspension of gay discharges would present opponents of the repeal with “the starkest evidence yet” that gays can serve openly without negative consequences. Passage of the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, a draft of the legislation to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, is assumed by many who oppose executive action. Aside from being less than guaranteed, the passage of that act “will not be clean,” according to Belkin’s report. “Even if the bill were to pass tomorrow” the report reads, “it would do nothing for transgender service members and it would continue to remain silent about the spouses and domestic partners of gay troops.”
The researchers’ statements also serve as a reminder to the White House of candidate Obama’s campaign sentiments and promises. By presenting executive action as an option to immediately end gay discharges, they are “putting pressure on the White House to reiterate its commitment to ending the ban, and that’s exactly what’s happened – hearings are being set in Congress,” said Frank.
Last week also marked the launch of the Human Rights Campaign’s “Voices of Honor” national tour in partnership with Servicemembers United. The tour’s purpose is to spread awareness of the law’s detriment to national security and rally support for its repeal.