Voting on the repeal of the military’s controversial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was further postponed on Tuesday by a Senatorial filibuster.
The bill, which has been debated by public figures ranging from Sen. John McCain to Lady Gaga, will determine the status of LGBT in the military. While some believe that overturning DADT would dismantle a long-held military tradition, others maintain that the policy is a violation of civil liberties.
According to David Serlin, an affiliate of the UCSB Palm Center — a political think-tank that conducts extensive research on sexual orientation and military relations — DADT is equivalent to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“The decision to postpone the vote was a bit of political charlatanry masquerading as sincere care for the imperiled military,” Serlin said. “The GOP supporters of the postponement wanted to link the defense bill’s inclusion of overturning DADT to a ‘liberal agenda’ rather than discuss it within the terms of civil rights or its unconstitutionality — neither of which are liberal or conservative. As with DADT, the Civil Rights Act was a fulfillment of the Constitution, not some side-project of a liberal agenda.”
Considering the military’s relative leniency regarding criminal backgrounds, Serlin said DADT is a hypocritical policy.
“The GOP would rather see the military continue its policy of recruiting former convicted felons and high school dropouts, which apparently it sees as better representatives of the military and democracy in general, than dismantle DADT,” Serlin said.
Although proponents of DADT assert that the policy prevents harassment of LGBT service people, the Palm Center’s Deputy Director Christopher Neff said the Senate’s lack of action was a setback for granting soldiers basic human rights.
“This was, in my opinion, the most significant vote to date in the history of the LGBT movement,” Neff said. “It was important that it come to the floor and be voted on. It was clear that the votes were not there … [but] it is important to note the real nature of the vote, which was a vote on discrimination, not simply process.”
According to Serlin, the issue could be ended more swiftly and easily if the debate were taken out of the realm of policy play.
“I only wish that President Obama had taken care of this with the stroke of a pen rather than making it a political football,” Serlin said. “He has the power to make it happen, why doesn’t he use it?”
The Palm Center has been at the forefront of DADT research throughout the issue’s contentious history and, according to Neff, the center is eager to continue contributing empirical evidence to the heated policy debate.
“The Palm Center plays a unique role in connecting the academic literature, evidence-based data and history on DADT to the policy debate,” Neff said. “Our role is to follow the data on this issue wherever it goes. If it didn’t support repeal we would say so, but it overwhelmingly does.”
Bonnie Moradi, who is also affiliated with the Palm Center, said the center’s work was able to analytically disprove the feasibility of the policy.
“My view is that DADT was not based on empirical data and the data that are available are inconsistent with the rationale for DADT,” Moradi said. “I see no scientific justification for delaying its repeal.”