As we eagerly watched President Obama sign into law last week the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act - the first major piece of civil rights legislation for the LGBT community - it dawned on us that many of those flanking the President on stage, applauding, were military men, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
We could hyper-spin this scene about how pleased we were to see the nation’s senior military leadership celebrating the passage of this historic legislation for the LGBT community. But top military brass typically attend these kinds of signing ceremonies. Admiral Mullen and Secretary Gates were in attendance to ring in the increased funding for their military operations--not for unprecedented hate crimes legislation. Only 10 of the 655-page National Defense Authorization Act dealt with hate crimes.
But that's OK; the visual was priceless. We in fact would welcome an identical photo-op next year, same cast of characters huddled around the President signing the next defense budget. SLDN will be working to include a repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" in that budget bill.
And they say defense authorization bills aren't sexy.
For DADT repeal to be attached to the FY '11 defense budget, however, Congress and the White House need to move out, and quickly. Lawmakers should talk to service members who have been impacted by the gay ban. We're confident such conversations would underscore the sense of urgency to lay the political groundwork for repeal.
We've heard all the Washington excuses. The proverbial plate is too full right now. Or, there is only room on the plate for one big issue (health care). But every time an administration official or media pundit uses one of these excuses, they are effectively telling those fired or about to be fired under DADT to get over it, to have patience and to wait their turn. We’re sure this country’s gay patriots, who are fighting for your freedom and mine, deserve a bit more respect than this.
Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune recently noted that Obama owes the 65,000 LGBT service members a timetable for action. That timetable is next year. We look forward to that photo-op.