DADT relegated to the trash heap of history

DADT RELEGATED TO THE TRASH HEAP OF HISTORY…. There’s going to be a point in the not too distant future in which young people turn to their parents and teachers with a quizzical look.

“Let me get this straight,” they’ll say. “The law dictated that courageous and patriotic American volunteers, physically fit and ready to serve, were legally prohibited from military service — even during two wars — because they acknowledged they were gay?” And some of us will sheepishly reply, “Yep, I never understood it, either.”

And thanks to today’s developments, we’ll be able to add one more aspect to our explanation: “Fortunately, just enough Americans realized the country had made a mistake and put things right.”

This morning, a bipartisan group of 57 Democrats and six Republicans broke a GOP filibuster, allowing the Senate to vote up or down on a standalone bill to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” This afternoon, the Senate finished the deal — the legislation passed 65 to 31.

The legislation is identical to the one that passed the House a few days ago, so its next stop is the White House, where President Obama will gladly sign it into law, officially removing DADT from the books and relegating the discriminatory policy to the trash heap of history.

It’s worth pausing to note some of the folks who made this success possible.

* The LGBT community’s activists and their allies — For those demanding equality and LGBT civil rights, there are a variety of issues that fuel and motivate activism, but DADT has been a central rallying cry for many years. They helped get repeal on the map, helped push policymakers to do what’s right, and it was the community’s tireless efforts that helped deliver today’s win.

* The American people — Policymakers don’t always follow the polls, but the more popular the proposal, the easier it is to pass. In the case of DADT, survey after survey showed the American mainstream overwhelmingly supportive of repeal — regardless of party, ideology, age, race, gender, education level, income, or region. Had the public not shown such good sense, today’s victory, in all likelihood, wouldn’t have happened.

* U.S. troops — Gay and lesbian soldiers helped tell their story, making it painfully obvious to decent people that the status quo wasn’t working. The larger community of servicemen and women answered a survey, and their comfort with change made today possible.

* President Obama — In 2008, candidate Obama ran on a platform that included DADT repeal as a key promise. In his first State of the Union address, President Obama put repeal on the front burner, urging Congress to make the long-overdue change, and raising the visibility of the issue to new heights. The president, his White House, and Organizing for America continued to push for repeal, and played an important role in making it happen.

* Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen — Perhaps no one brought more credibility and stature to this debate than Gates and Mullen, both of whom not only endorsed repeal, but offered persuasive and powerful congressional testimony on the issue. In multiple hearings, Republicans kept rehashing tired talking points, and these two men kept knocking them down. It was absolutely pivotal.

* Joe Lieberman — It pains me to admit it, because I’ve been exasperated with Lieberman for many years, but the truth is he showed real leadership on this issue, and today’s victory is a direct result of his hard work.

* Harry Reid — The Senate Majority Leader was not only on the side of angels on this issue all along, but he made damn sure it reached the floor when it looked like it might not. Reid invested endless hours in helping assemble the necessary votes, and worked with the House to get the standalone bill crafted just right. Without Reid’s commitment and follow-through, the bill would have very likely died.

* Susan Collins — There have been times when I’ve questioned whether she was negotiating in good faith. She was. Last week, Collins teamed up with Lieberman, when it would have been easy for her to quit and move on, and made the standalone a bipartisan bill, which in turn helped bring other Republicans on board.

* Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, and Patrick Murphy — House Democrats have been on board with repeal from the outset, and were willing to pass this more than once to accommodate a serpentine process. Pelosi, Hoyer, and Murphy never wavered, and never blinked.

I could go on, and I don’t want to short shrift other deserving figures. Kirsten Gillibrand, Barney Frank, Hillary Clinton, Colin Powell, and many others made today possible.

The larger point, though, is that a variety of groups, figures, leaders, and policymakers established a goal and worked together to reach it. The result is a historic victory for American civil rights that all of us can be proud of.