U.S. News: Passing the Buck on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

Updated February 28, 2017 | Infoplease Staff
2010 Year in Review

Major U.S. news stories, from health-care reform to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

U.S. Military

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Passing the Buck on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

Judicial Opinion
After 17 years, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the Clinton-era military policy that forbids openly gay men and women from serving in the military, appeared to be coming to an end in 2010. President Obama announced in his State of the Union Address in January that he wanted to repeal the policy and asked top officials at the Department of Defense to look for a way to end the law. Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, agreed that repealing the policy was "the right thing to do." Though less vocally supportive of the repeal, Defense Secretary Robert Gates vowed to follow through with Obama's directive. In order to gauge the military's response to his proposal, the president ordered a survey of active members of the military to determine how they feel about repeal of the policy.

In October, in deciding a lawsuit on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" filed by the so-called Log Cabin Republicans, a gay-rights group, U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips found the policy unconstitutional and ordered the government to stop enforcing the law, a political gift for Obama and Democrats. However, Secretary Gates responded to the ruling unfavorably, claiming that ending enforcement of the law so abruptly would have negative effects on the men and women currently serving in the military and that Congress should decide on the validity of the law. Days later, the Department of Justice appealed the ruling, and a federal appeals court temporarily stayed Judge Phillips's decision to allow gays to serve openly, giving President Obama and Congress more time to work out a more savory solution to the issue.

Military Opinion
The Pentagon released results of the nine-month study in November. More than 115,000 active-duty and reserve service members were surveyed, and the Pentagon reached the conclusion that repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" would not negatively affect the military's strength. Of those military personnel surveyed, 70 percent believed repealing the law would impact their units in a positive, mixed, or neutral way. The survey coupled with the court ruling seemingly opened the door for Congress to abolish the law; however, in early December a repeal was voted down in the Senate when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) suddenly brought the issue to a vote while he and his Republican colleagues were in negotiations about the issue as part of a military spending bill.

Senators Push Forward
Senators Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) vowed to create a bill to repeal the measure that was separate from the military spending bill and bring it to a vote before the lame-duck session of Congress ended.

Finally, on December 18, the Senate voted 65 to 31 in favor of repealing the law; eight Republicans sided with the Democrats to strike down the ban on gays in the military. The repeal was sent to President Obama for his final signature. The ban will not be lifted officially until Obama, Gates, and Mullen agree that the military is ready to enact the change.

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