By Jonathon Michaels
“We are a nation that says, ‘Out of many, we are one.’ We are a nation that welcomes the service of every patriot. We are a nation that believes that all men and women are created equal. Those are the ideals that generations [of Americans] have fought for. Those are the ideals that we uphold today. And now, it is my honor to sign this bill into law.”
With these words, President Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States of America, signed the bill that will for the first time allow gay and lesbian soldiers to serve openly in the armed forces. It has been a long time coming, and Obama’s signing of the bill is for many reasons a victory for American ideals, a long-overdue step to strengthen the military at a much-needed time in our history, and a message to the world that we not only fight to protect human rights abroad, but we also grant them to our citizens at home.
As long as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) remained the law of the land, we remained a nation of hypocrites, denying liberty to those we sent to fight and die abroad. Our soldiers fought and died, so that female Iraqis might vote and girls in Afghanistan could go to school – but as they waged war for a country that had sent them around the world to fight a battle that was not their own, our men and women in uniform lacked the full civil liberties that we trumpeted so brazenly as our justifications for sending them there in the first place.
But there was, of course, more than a moral or an ideal reason to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. There was the inescapable reality that our military needs all the volunteers it can get, that any policy that prevents loyal service members from joining the military unnecessarily hinders the prosecution of the global war on terror, and that DADT was a waste of human talent, loyalty, and dedication to country and people. Arguments that repeal would lead to the disintegration of unit cohesion rapidly fell by the wayside as it became apparent that Israel, the United Kingdom, and Russia, all countries with effective and powerful militaries, allow gays and lesbians to serve. From a matter of military effectiveness, repeal was the right choice and the only choice. Like Truman’s desegregation of the armed forces in 1948, Obama’s repeal of DADT will enhance the strength of our national security at a point in time when it has never been more necessary. And also like Truman, President Obama will perhaps be able to look back upon his first term in office and say with truth that his signature was the first step on a path to civil liberties for all.
And lastly, the repeal of DADT was in the end little more than a recognition of a fact that everyone knew, and a reality to which we had turned a blind eye that served no one but those who wished to hide the truth. DADT did not exclude gays from the military – it merely forced them to hide their sexual identity. Its repeal simply casts light upon what had been in darkness: the bravery of men and women who for years fought not only against terrorism, but also the repression of a crucial component of the self. It is right, just, and fair that they must now fight only the former.