September 29, 2010

Ask, Tell

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As far as partisanship is concerned, the G.O.P. is not bi-curious.Last week, Senate Republicans voted unanimously to block a bill containing a provision that would allow the Pentagon to repeal its highly controversial Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy, despite the House having passed a similar bill in May and despite the fact that most Americans support a repeal.The law, enacted by Congress 17 years ago, bars openly gay, lesbian and bisexual men and women from serving in the military. Or, put in positive terms, allows queer soldiers to die for their country so long as they live a lie for their military.Since then, an estimated 14,000 men and women have been discharged from the military because of their sexuality, costing the country tens of millions — some estimate more than a billion — in tax dollars.The policy is not only “un-American,” as one independent senator said, but also “unconstitutional,” as one U.S. district court judge ruled earlier this month.It is also unpopular: A Washington Post poll found that three quarters of Americans want Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repealed. Another poll found that the majority of Republicans and the majority of “regular churchgoers” also oppose the policy.So does the White House. President Barack Obama promised to end Don’t Ask Don’t Tell during his first State of the Union address in 2009. Later in the year, he reiterated: “I believe Don’t Ask Don’t Tell doesn’t contribute to our national security. In fact, I believe preventing patriotic Americans from serving their country weakens our national security.”The President talks a good one. Sadly, Lady Gaga has been a better advocate for human rights than Obama. “Our fight is a continuum of the ever-present equal/civil rights movement,” she said in a YouTube video that has accumulated nearly two million views in two weeks. “Every day we fight to abolish laws that harbor hatred and discrimination against all people; laws that infringe on our civil liberties; laws that, like Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, were put in place to eliminate friction and violence but in the end only delay the process of ending this most serious prejudice.”Well put, Ms. Gaga.Seth MacFarlane, creator of Family Guy and a fellow gay rights advocate, chimed in on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher last week. First, he facetiously suggested that, if the U.S. invades Iran — a country that, like the U.S. military, denies the existence of gay people within its domain — Obama should do it “with all gay guys.”Then MacFarlane touched on something more serious, something glaringly absent from public discourse in America. “When we invaded Iraq,” he recalled, “we invited the U.K. to come fight with us. We invited France. We invited Germany. Every one of those armies had openly gay soldiers serving in their military. The only other country that didn’t, besides the U.S., was the Iraq army.”It is a tragic irony that American soldiers are dying for the freedom they are themselves denied.And Obama is morally culpable for not correcting this profound injustice. If curmudgeons like John McCain are determined to be potholes on the path of progress, so be it. Go over their heads.Obama should end Don’t Ask Don’t Tell by executive order, the way president Harry S. Truman did in 1948 when he ordered the racial integration of the U.S. military.To be clear: I, like the majority of Americans, oppose Obama’s escalation of the Afghan conflict. I defer to the experts who see no tangible upside to it.But if Obama is intent on being a warlord, at least be an equal-opportunity warlord.After all, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is not so much a matter of the military as it is a matter of human rights. And Obama is supposed to care about that sort of stuff.Too often, however, Obama has padded around gay rights for fear of inflaming bigots.He insists, for example, that he is not pro-gay marriage but is pro-civil unions — the difference being entirely semantics. When pressed on the matter, he defaults to gay marriage being a “state issue.”In these sorts of situations, political shrewdness becomes spinelessness.And it is Obama’s perceived general “lack of backbone” that is hurting his popularity among the independents and young voters who swept him into office two years ago.What’s worse, his inability to deliver meaningful change, especially with regard to gay rights, is beginning to feel less like calculation and more like indifference.Since he took office, over 400 soldiers have lost their jobs because of the way they love.Channelling my best Kanye: Barack Obama doesn’t care about gay people.Or at least that’s how it can seem.On his Facebook page, the President tells us his favorite quotation is from Martin Luther King Jr.: “The arc of the moral universe is long,” the quote reads, “but it bends towards justice.”Let that arc be a rainbow. Let gay people experience the equality that their Constitution guarantees but that their country for too long has denied them.Mr. President, prove you are more than a benefactor of the civil rights movement but indeed the torch-bearer. End Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

Cody Gault is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at cgault@cornellsun.com. Stakes Is High appears alternate Thursdays this semester.

Original Author: Cody Gault