Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Federal judge orders halt to DADT -- so what will Obama do?

As you may have heard, U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips yesterday ordered that the U.S. military stop enforcing its "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.

The case was brought by Log Cabin Republicans. Yes, a group of Republicans, a small group in a party that for the most part is anti-gay, actually looks better on this issue than President Obama, who continues to be a disappointment on gay rights (to put it mildly).

Obama's DOJ will likely appeal the ruling, and so this doesn't mean the end of DADT, but it's a major step in the right direction, if also an embarrassing one for the president. As Andrew Sullivan writes:

So once again, we will have the political prospect of the Obama administration simultaneously legally defending the Defense of Marriage Act and Don't Ask, Don't Tell in court, while politically saying they oppose both. There is a case for such a position, and Obama's insistence on orderly executive defenses of laws passed by Congress is constitutionally sound. But in the arc of history and morality it is an increasingly perverse and bizarre one. It could also mean disaster for gay servicemembers.

Here's the thing. We have no guarantee that the Senate will pass legislative repeal of DADT in this session; and there's every chance that a radically Christianist GOP will win majorities in one or both Houses and definitely be able to sustain a filibuster against repeal in the next session if necessary. This is not because even most Republican voters back DADT; it is because it is a party hijacked by religious fundamentalists who cannot conceive of openly gay people serving their country. Look at the party of Paladino and DeMint and Palin. You think they will support anything that could remotely be deemed pro-gay?

In the long run, this will hurt the GOP - and watching the Log Cabin Republicans fight this battle is heartening. But in the short run, it could very well mean that this awful policy, opposed by 75 percent of the country, that imposes intolerable burdens on servicemembers risking their lives for us... could be in place for the indefinite future. And Obama will be the commander-in-chief enforcing it.

Yes, the GOP is the main party to blame. But no, this does not excuse the extra-cautious, gays-are-radioactive mindset of the Obama administration. This ruling therefore represents a chance for the president. He has the executive authority simply to issue a stop-loss order to end the firing of gay troops until further notice. If the Senate does not pass legislative repeal this session, he should use it.

Will he? It seems unlikely, given what we've seen from him so far. But there's still hope, I suppose, that on this issue, as on others where he has been "extra-cautious" (and Bush-like), Obama will live up to the promise of his presidency.

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