President Barack Obama recently signed a bill repealing the U.S. military’s contentious “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
The Senate repealed the policy with a 65-31 vote on Dec. 18 and was ratified by the president four days later, revoking a 17-year-old policy that prohibited openly gay servicemembers from serving in the military. However, the tens of thousands of gay military personnel currently serving in the U.S. armed forces will remain uncertain about their ability to disclose their sexual orientations until Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen and President Obama certify that the repeal will not compromise national security. The repeal will go into effect 60 days later.
Aaron Belkin, director of UCSB’s Palm Center — a political think-tank that studies sexual orientation and military relations — said servicemembers don’t need a lengthy transition period to adequately adjust to the policy change.
“The service chiefs are going to act like they need a lot of time, but that’s, frankly, political obstructionism,” Belkin said. “[Servicemembers] don’t need to be trained how to interact with gays — they already interact with gays.”
UCSB ROTC recruiting officer Captain Mel Abalos said he believes top Pentagon officials will support the bill.
“It was something that needs to be addressed and it will be worked out,” Abalos said. “We have very forward-thinking leadership. I don’t foresee any problems whatsoever.”
Additionally, Doctor David Serlin, a Palm Center-affiliated scholar, said the repeal will have an unremarkable impact on troops.
“They don’t really care, they’re already buddies flown into dangerous military situations,” Serlin said. “Here we are in two major military excursions. I don’t think there’s time for homophobia or an awkward transition period. Through our research, we discovered that in any number of other military organizations people either shrug their shoulders and say ‘So what?’ or think it’s simply like race or gender — just another point of difference.”
Additionally, Belkin said the congressional vote was a strategic and humanitarian victory equivalent to the historic gains represented by racial and gender integration in the military.
“Repealing the policy will enhance national security, so in terms of the impact on the military, it’s a good thing,” Belkin said. “At the same time this is an important step towards human rights. The first soldier kicked out of the army for sodomy was in 1778. This is a moment when the country has finally taken an important step towards treating gays and lesbians just like every other citizen.”
With 23 Republican senators voting in favor of the repeal, Serlin said the bill could provide groundwork for future congressional cohesion.
“I remember several months ago when it was struck down by the Court as unconstitutional and instead of accepting the decision, [Congress] got it done by consensus,” Serlin said. “This is one case where Obama’s decision to get bipartisan agreement paid off.”
According to Belkin, the Palm Center’s research played a critical role in reversing DADT.
“Our role has been to help sustain the intellectual architecture of conversation,” Belkin said. “Some of the points that became important for the moderate senators were reinforced in the public’s consciousness again and again by the Palm Center.”
Furthermore, Serlin said the center’s impact was gradual.
“The Palm Center has been generating research about the legality of DADT for 12 years and has generated more reports than most people can count that have pointed to its unfairness,” Serlin said. “The influence of the Palm Center has been cumulative over time rather than just popping up one day. I think many people have been influenced by the Palm Center without knowing.”