“Don’t ask, don’t tell” has been the law of the land for 17 years and 16 days. In that history we have never been as close as we are right now to replacing the statute with a sensible policy of open service that strengthens our military and respects each of our fighting men and women.
On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to repeal this discriminatory law for the second time. Now, at this critical moment, all eyes are on the Senate. If repeal fails, the years of work that have gone into ridding our laws of this odious policy will be for naught.
There have been hearings in both houses, a historic State of the Union address, unprecedented support of senior military leaders, positive and public polling. But last week the Senate failed its responsibility to consider DADT repeal as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.
Yet out of those ashes, our champions Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) have put forward a bipartisan solution to pass repeal as a stand-alone measure. We remain on a precipice where we could still cross the finish line or trip at the last moment, pushing the possibility of legislative repeal into the future.
Getting a stand-alone measure through the Senate and to the president before the end of the year is clearly a heavy lift. We are buoyed by the fact that enough Senators have said they support repeal to get over the 60-vote threshold. Without procedural fig leaves behind which to hide, the question is whether Senators will put their money where their mouths are.
Of course, the waning days of a Congressional session with plenty of unfinished business is not the ideal scenario in which to consider this issue. While we’ve seen Senators default to making arguments about process and debate and order, the American people are looking for action — not to mention the thousands of men and women currently serving in silence.
If Senators fail to deliver on repeal, what would they say to the Army medic forced to lie about her partner every single day? That they needed to get home a full week before Christmas? What would they say to the gay Arabic linguist who’s deciding whether he should re-enlist? That the vote would have messed up their travel schedules?
Senators of both parties need to ask themselves what excuses really matter if they believe that DADT has harmed our military and that repeal will not cause significant strains on the force. Certainly both Republicans and Democrats can find it in them to make this work if they really favor repeal. The American people are calling for bipartisan cooperation, and the debate over DADT has given members of Congress a chance to prove they were elected for a reason.
We’ve heard over and over from our leaders that repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” is a priority. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the 111th Congress is almost over, and here’s where the rubber hits the road. Either it’s a priority, and real political muscle is put behind its passage, or it’s not. This must be true for the president and for Democrats and Republicans in the Senate.
The one true measure of success is allowing patriotic men and women the opportunity to lend their talents in service to their country. We’ll soon find out if promises made will be promises kept.
Joe Solmonese is president of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay-rights organization.