Conservative and family-values organizations have launched into what may be a desperate and doomed campaign to turn back a breakthrough compromise on repealing "don't ask, don't tell," which has kept gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military for some 17 years. The Obama administration has publicly approved the compromise, and lawmakers could vote on the repeal as early as this week.
Not surprisingly, not everyone is happy about the deal. But criticism is also coming from some unexpected quarters. A leading advocate of repeal, Lt. Daniel Choi, who is currently discharged from the Army for being gay, is "livid" at the news. Choi says that the language in the compromise fails to protect service members or "restore their integrity." At issue is the lack of nondiscrimination protections for service members in the compromise language. A source close to the talks told NEWSWEEK on Monday: "In a perfect world we would have unconditional repeal with nondiscrimination protections built in. But this is very, very good; this is definitely a clear path forward."
Not so, says Choi.
"As long as I have to compromise my integrity, I'm not happy with this compromise," he tells NEWSWEEK. Gay organizations may wind up disappointed with his lack of support for their efforts. "If they expect that kind of lockstep moral compromise from us, they will be sorely mistaken. Who knows how long this will be kicked down the road?
"Discrimination is at the heart of 'don't ask, don't tell,' and nobody is saying when soldiers get to tell the truth; no one is saying when their integrity will be restored," argues Choi. According to the deal struck by gay advocates and lawmakers on Monday, Congress will add the repeal language into the defense authorization bill as early as this week, but there will be no action taken on implementation of the repeal until after the Pentagon delivers its finding into the effects of the repeal on Dec. 1. Even then it is not clear how quickly the Pentagon would be required to act. "How long do we have to wait?" asks Choi. "Allowing discrimination for any period of time is heinous." Choi stopped short of criticizing gay organizations by name that were involved in the compromise, but added, "It's moral turpitude to ignore discrimination. This is being claimed as a victory, but for whom?"
"I'm happy that something is finally happening," Richard Socarides, who was former president Bill Clinton's gay-issues adviser, told the Financial Times. "But I think they have made this conditional and put it off for as long as they can. The White House has been dragged kicking and screaming into acting on this." News reports seemed to suggest that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has only grudgingly accepted the compromise.
Conservatives who have long opposed repealing the law are also upset, as to be expected. The Family Research Council is leading the charge, with polling data promised on opposition to the repeal and a stepped-up grassroots outreach to constituents in the lead-up to this week's expected debate and votes in Congress. The organization on Tuesday also placed an ad in Politico asking, "What do Kagan, Levin and Pelosi have in common? Using the military to advance their radical social agenda." On a call with military leaders and reporters on Tuesday, FRC president Tony Perkins said, "This is nothing more than a military charade. Why move now?" He questioned why the administration and lawmakers would not wait until the Pentagon had completed its report on the repeal, offering one answer. "They are afraid they won’t have enough votes after November to advance their radical agenda." According to Perkins, Obama is pushing for the repeal for one reason: "This is a political payoff to a small part of the president's political base."
Meanwhile, Queerty.com, a leading site for gay issues, pays homage to Choi and other service members who staged civil-disobedience efforts to fight DADT, including handcuffing themselves to the White House gates. According to a Queerty post, "After all that haggling today among Gay Inc., the White House, legislators, and the Pentagon, the Obama administration announced it will support an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell this year—but only after the Defense Department finishes its 10-month review." Gay Inc. is the term used to describe several leading gay organizations, which critics argue have compromised too much as they have grown bigger and more powerful. Expect more criticism of the compromise in the days to come.