Congressional Democrats passed, and President Obama signed, legislation in December to repeal the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law. And while that was the major hurdle in this civil-rights breakthrough, there was still one more step to go on the process.
The legislation began a process that allowed Pentagon leaders to oversee a transition period. Once the Defense Secretary and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff formally told President Obama the military is trained and ready to implement the change, then the new policy could be officially certified.
That finally happened this afternoon, soon after Pentagon Chief Leon Panetta was sworn into office. President Obama issued a statement about a half-hour ago.
“Today, we have taken the final major step toward ending the discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law that undermines our military readiness and violates American principles of fairness and equality. In accordance with the legislation that I signed into law last December, I have certified and notified Congress that the requirements for repeal have been met. ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ will end, once and for all, in 60 days — on September 20, 2011.
“As Commander in Chief, I have always been confident that our dedicated men and women in uniform would transition to a new policy in an orderly manner that preserves unit cohesion, recruitment, retention and military effectiveness. Today’s action follows extensive training of our military personnel and certification by Secretary Panetta and Admiral Mullen that our military is ready for repeal. As of September 20th, service members will no longer be forced to hide who they are in order to serve our country. Our military will no longer be deprived of the talents and skills of patriotic Americans just because they happen to be gay or lesbian.
“I want to commend our civilian and military leadership for moving forward in the careful and deliberate manner that this change requires, especially with our nation at war. I want to thank all our men and women in uniform, including those who are gay or lesbian, for their professionalism and patriotism during this transition. Every American can be proud that our extraordinary troops and their families, like earlier generations that have adapted to other changes, will only grow stronger and remain the best fighting force in the world and a reflection of the values of justice and equality that the define us as Americans.”
In accordance with the law passed in December, today’s certification verifies that military readiness and recruiting will not be harmed by the change.
In 60 days, the law will be gone for good, and openly-gay servicemen and women will be to reveal their sexual orientation, enlist in the military, and in states with marriage-equality laws, even live with same-sex spouses in military housing.
The arc of history is long, and it’s still bending towards justice.
Before moving on, I’d also like to note recent remarks from Marine Sgt. Maj. Micheal Barrett, the Command Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, and a decorated combat veteran.
“Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution is pretty simple,” he told a group of Marines at a base in South Korea. “It says, ‘Raise an army.’ It says absolutely nothing about race, color, creed, sexual orientation.
“You all joined for a reason: to serve,” he continued. “To protect our nation, right?”
“Yes, sergeant major,” Marines replied.
“How dare we, then, exclude a group of people who want to do the same thing you do right now, something that is honorable and noble?” Sgt. Maj. Barrett continued, raising his voice just a notch. “Right?”
Sgt. Maj. Barrett then described conversations with U.K. troops, who saw a similar ban lifted a decade ago, with little disruption. And to drive the point home, he produced a pocket copy of the Constitution.
“Get over it,” he said. “We’re magnificent, we’re going to continue to be…. Let’s just move on, treat everybody with firmness, fairness, dignity, compassion and respect. Let’s be Marines.”
As recently as a month ago, dozens of congressional Republicans still hoped to prevent today’s breakthrough. Fortunately, they lost.