WASHINGTON-President Obama said during a White House gay-pride reception this week that he remains committed to ending the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Obama told the gathering in the East Room that the policy is unfair and prevents patriotic Americans from serving their country. He clarified, to quell growing unrest over his perceived lack of action, that this and other gay-rights measures are an incredibly difficult struggle that will not happen overnight.
"We've been in office six months now. I suspect that by the time this administration is over, I think you guys will have pretty good feelings about the Obama administration," Obama said, with great applause from the audience of families, activists, and community leaders.
Lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender (LGBT) groups have accused Obama of moving too slow on his campaign promise to end "don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) and some have asked for an executive order to end the policy. Two weeks ago the president signed a memorandum requiring all federal agencies to provide marriage benefits to same-sex couples, but LGBT groups were not appeased. They say the DADT law is discriminatory and unconstitutional, and should be a top priority. Conservative groups argue the law is necessary and fair.
Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said the president's remarks were welcomed and appreciated, but his actions-not his words-will be the true marker by which this White House will be judged.
The Obama administration has been working with the Pentagon and members of the House and the Senate on the best way to end the DADT policy, which requires an act of Congress. The Clinton-era bill was originally a compromise to allow gays, who were previously banned from the armed forces, to join the military if they stayed silent about their sexual orientation.
Tommy Sears, the executive director of the Center for Military Readiness (CMR), said the ban on open homosexuality in the military is a legitimate law upheld by numerous federal courts and is not a violation of civil rights: "There is no right to be in the military. It is sometimes a duty or an obligation, but the military has the right to reject applicants for many reasons."
About 1,100 military officers, all with at least one star in their rank, signed an open letter sponsored by the CMR to the president and Congress defending the ban on homosexuals in the military. The letter argues that a repeal of the law would hurt the military: "We believe that imposing this burden on our men and women in uniform would undermine recruiting and retention, impact leadership at all echelons, have adverse effects on the willingness of parents who lend their sons and daughters to military service, and eventually break the All-Volunteer Force."
According to a Military Times poll last year, 58 percent of active military members do not support a repeal of DADT and 10 percent say they would not re-enlist if the law is overturned. According to Sears, 10 percent of all military personnel is the equivalent of the entire Marine Corps.
More than 12,500 gays have been expelled from the military since President Clinton signed DADT. The latest person affected is Lt. Dan Choi, who was recommended for expulsion from the New York National Guard by an officers' panel on Tuesday because in March he openly said he was gay. The Courage Campaign and CREDO Mobile have collected more than 162,000 signatures for a petition to stop Choi from being discharged and to tell Obama to push Congress to repeal quickly DADT.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the DADT law was created without much flexibility, but until the law is repealed the Defense Department is looking into ways to lessen the impact of the rule. For instance, if a gay member is revealed by a third-party and not confessed by the member himself, then the military might not have to expel them.
"That's the kind of thing we're looking at, to see if there's at least a more humane way to apply the law until the law gets changed," Gates said in a Pentagon transcript.
The president has also called on Congress to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, said he wants an employee non-discrimination bill and a hate-crimes bill, and wants to rescind the discriminatory ban on entry to the United States based on HIV status. Another top LGBT priority for the administration is passing a Domestic Partners Benefits and Obligations Act, which will guarantee benefits, including health care, to LGBT couples and their children.