Though it’s been months since both chambers of Congress voted to end the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy disallowing openly gay people to serve in the military, not until this week was the policy officially ended. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will see its sunset on Tuesday.
An estimated 14,000 soldiers have been expelled from the military during the rule’s 18-year enactment.
Opponents of the ban on gay service members have been fighting and waiting since 1993, when then-President Bill Clinton signed the law, rationalizing that soldiers would not face discrimination for parts of their personal life that they did not disclose, while still allowing gay people to serve. Congress approved the repeal of the law in December 2010, but the process of shuttering the policy was not a simple one. First, President Barack Obama worked with the Department of Defense to be sure that the military was “ready” for the end of DADT, requiring certification of “readiness” in the wake of the ban’s end.
Before the president had given the go-ahead, however, a years-old court case threatened to throw a wrench in the machinery of the process. The lawsuit, Log Cabin Republicans v. USA, was originally filed in 2004 to challenge the constitutionality of the law. On July 6, the federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled that DADT was unconstitutional, and ordered the Pentagon to stop enforcing it immediately.
On July 22, Obama certified the repeal, setting the 60-day countdown clock to enactment ticking.
“As of September 20th, service members will no longer be forced to hide who they are in order to serve our country,” Obama said. “Our military will no longer be deprived of the talents and skills of patriotic Americans just because they happen to be gay or lesbian.”
Republican House members presented a final hurdle to ending Don’t Ask, Don’t tell last week, when Armed Services Committee Chair Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA) and Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) sent a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta asking for a delay in the repeal.
“Committee officials have requested, but not received, copies of the revised regulations and a summary of all the specific policy changes, especially with regard to benefits, that will take effect upon repeal,” the letter said. “Since it is evident that the department does not have final, approved polices in place, we believe it is essential that you take immediate action to delay the implementation of repeal.”
The date for repeal was not pushed back.
No formal military events or ceremonies are planned to mark the end of the ban’s tenure, though advocacy groups — some connected to active service members — are planning celebrations and tributes.
The Log Cabin Republicans, the conservative gay rights group that brought suit against the U.S. over the ban, will honor lawmakers on Tuesday. R. Clarke Cooper, he group’s executive director and an Army Reserve captain, told military newspaper Stars and Stripes that the business-as-usual attitude in the military was somewhat comforting.
“That’s what all of us pushing for a repeal have been saying,” he said. “After the change, it’s really not that big of a deal for the military.”