October 26, 2010

Repealing Discrimination

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As the court, military, President and politicians continue to debate the legal status of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the gay men and women in the armed forces continue to serve the country that openly rejects their sexual orientation. This is not only a national disgrace, but one that directly affects our classmates in Cornell’s ROTC program.

From President David Skorton, who described DADT as “detrimental to both students and the nation,” to ROTC Training Officer Isaac Todd ’11, who told The Sun “there doesn’t seem to be any reason why this policy should exist,” members of all areas of the Cornell community reject the underlying principles and assumptions of DADT. However, both Cornell and its robust ROTC program continue to respect and adhere to this policy. This has created a strange situation on campus — one where the majority of students, faculty and administrators reject this policy, yet the policy is stringently followed. This is not to say that Cornell or ROTC is wrong to not take proactive action in protest of DADT, it is simply to point out the complicated relationship our campus has with this policy, and to illustrate how this policy persists despite widespread disapproval.

Because of the fluidity of the legality (or illegality) of DADT over the past month, Lt. Col. Steven Alexander, professor of military science, urged cadets at Cornell to adhere to the policy until its legal status is resolved, according to Tuesday’s Sun report. While more radical dissenters of DADT may see this advice as complicit with a homophobic philosophy, Alexander’s advice ultimately protects gay and lesbian cadets from being unjustly discharged before the long-awaited repeal of DADT. His advice is pragmatic, and illustrates the fact that, despite the seemingly inevitable downfall of DADT in the coming months, homosexual men and women in the armed forces are still at the mercy of this legalized discrimination.

While we support a permanent injunction on DADT, the political reality unfortunately suggests that the President’s current plan to have Congress repeal it is more viable.  The President is required to defend a standing law in court, regardless of his personal beliefs, so the Department of Justice’s appeal is understandable.  Although the President has repeatedly stated that he rejects DADT, it would not be prudent for his administration to let this issue be resolved in the courts.  An appeal to the Supreme Court would be inevitable, and with the current Court’s unabashed conservative slant, DADT would likely remain on the books.

In the meantime, the President must spend some of his admittedly dwindling political capital to line up support in Congress for a repeal of DADT. With the Pentagon due to publish its report on the effects and implementation of a DADT repeal at the beginning of December, the legislature will no longer have a reason to delay its final decision on the policy. Since the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defense both voiced their support for a DADT repeal, and a federal judge found the policy unconstitutional, it would be foolish of the Pentagon to find a repeal too disruptive or difficult.  While the Pentagon has certainly been guilty of foolish actions in the past, it seems perfectly capable of deciding that an orderly repeal of DADT would be both beneficial to our Armed Services and morally superior to the current policy.