A Mea Culpa on DADT

The 111th Congress, 2009-11, was a landmark triumph for the rights of lesbians and gay men. The passage of legislation permitting the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was a watershed. It heralded the end of the counterproductive and cruel exclusion of gay Americans who want to serve their country in the military. This was a personal relief for the thousands of gay men and lesbians now serving, for many of those who have served but were discharged because of sexual orientation and may now re-enlist, and for the many more who will serve in years to come. Beyond that, it was important to have the country — by legislation, no less — bring homosexuals into the single most conservative institution we have, the one closest to the heart of citizenship, the one charged with the defense of our freedoms and values. The repeal knee-capped common arguments against the equal rights of gay men and lesbians in many domains, and will continue to do so as the hysterical fears it inspired are disproved in the years to come.

I confess to having been one of those who, in the fall election of 2008 and continuing until the moment of repeal last December, was deeply skeptical about the commitment of Democrats to repealing DADT and dubious about President Obama’s dedication to the effort. And while I could cavil about the sequence of events that led to the repeal vote, could note bitterly that President Clinton was primarily to blame (by incompetence, at the very least) for the codification of the ban, and heap praise on the brave handful of Republicans who voted for repeal, there is no question in my mind that it happened because of the Democrats, and specifically because of the gay Democrats and their supporters who worked for decades to change minds in their party. None of this makes any less important the work that gay Republicans are doing in the GOP. But we must give credit where it is due.

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