‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ debate simmers at Stanford as national battle looms
Don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) was a compromise implemented during the Clinton Administration amid a debate over the role of gays in the military, limiting the military’s ability to ask service members about their sexual orientation but allowing for gay members’ discharge if such information came to light. Nearly two decades later, the policy is drawing fire on Capitol Hill and on Stanford’s campus.
“I have a number of good friends who are gay who have been ex-officers in the military, who have been kicked out,” said political science graduate student Jim Golby, who is also a major in the U.S. Army. “And I think it’s a shame.”
Since 1993, approximately 14,000 gay men and women have been discharged due to their sexual orientation, according to The New York Times. When the policy was instated, support for openly gay service members was low.
But now, as the debate over the status of gay service members heats up again, polls for the first time suggest public support for a more open policy. And on Tuesday, a new Pentagon study reported the risk to the military’s effectiveness by repealing the policy is low.
Law professor Jane Schacter explained typical arguments on both sides of the debate.
Proponents of the policy place “special emphasis on the need for units, especially in combat, to be tightly bonded and unified” she said. “They have also argued that civilians should defer to the judgments of military officials on this question because they have a better understanding of the special characteristics of the military.”
The policy’s opponents argue that “prejudice drives these arguments, not data or evidence,” Schacter said. They “have pointed to militaries around the world that have successfully integrated openly gay soldiers…and said the military is, in fact, harmed by the loss of the many well-qualified gay soldiers.”
Several gay service members have filed lawsuits since DADT was enacted. They have argued the policy is unconstitutional because it violates equal protection, due process and the First Amendment, Schacter said.
None of these lawsuits has prompted broad changes in policy, but “a few recent decisions may signal a new direction,” Schacter added.
California District Court Judge Virginia Phillips wrote recently that the policy “infringes the fundamental rights of United States service members” and violates their rights of due process and freedom of speech.
The ruling is being appealed. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has ruled that the policy will remain in effect while the appeal proceeds.
But some changes in the policy’s implementation are materializing. In a federal district court case in Washington, it was ruled “unconstitutional to discharge [Maj.] Margaret Witt from the military” Schacter said.
The judge “employed a new standard that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had imposed, requiring the military to show specific proof that the individual gay soldier discharged had undermined military effectiveness or unit cohesion,” Schacter added.
On Stanford’s campus, students fall on both sides of the issue.
“If a corporation in the United States had a policy like this they would be roundly criticized,” wrote sophomore Dan Thompson in an e-mail to The Daily. “It’s even worse that this discrimination is supported by the state.”
On the other hand, sophomore Connor Lanman ’13 says “there should be no distractions in such a structured, focused organization.”
“Fighting a war, you can’t be afraid of the fact that your comrade is a homosexual or not,” Lanman said. “Maybe at some point I’d like to see it repealed, but not in the midst of conflicts overseas.”
One way or another, “if the government’s going to change the plan, we want to make sure we have as good of a plan as possible to smooth the transition,” Golby said.