A historic civil-rights vote

Repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is a victory for inclusion

The Senate’s vote Saturday (Dec. 18) to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law and allow gay and lesbian soldiers to serve openly was not only a historic civil-rights vote, it was also a shining example of bipartisan tolerance. In the end, 23 Republicans—eight in the Senate and 15 in the House—listened to their consciences and voted for repeal instead of following their caucuses’ obdurate mission to embarrass President Obama whenever possible.

Since DADT passed in 1993, more than 14,000 Marines, sailors and soldiers have lost their jobs because of it, to the detriment of the armed services and the country as a whole, as well as to their own sense of dignity. These are people, remember, who signed up because they were willing to put their lives on the line for the nation they love.

There have always been homosexuals in the military, and there is nothing to indicate that it’s a problem these days. As the Pentagon’s own examination of the implications of repeal showed, soldiers simply don’t discuss such things on the job. A person’s private life is private.

The repeal of DADT also signals the end to decades of discrimination against homosexuals in the military. Between World War II and DADT, as George Chauncey writes in The New York Times, homosexuals were excluded as a group from military service. Those who served secretly but were found out by their superior officers and dishonorably discharged were not only haunted on the job market, but also disqualified for the G.I. Bill.

There were further exclusions: In 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower issued an executive order banning homosexuals from federal employment, as well as from private companies with federal contracts. And many states took the cue and prohibited bars and restaurants from serving homosexuals.

Most of that inequity is now long gone, fortunately. The next step is to allow gays and lesbians to marry. That will happen, sooner or later. In the meantime, President Obama will soon sign into law another transformative bill that was a centerpiece of his campaign.