A Green Light to Repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Gay-rights advocates held two concurrent meetings Monday at the White House and on Capitol Hill to hash out a compromise on repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell, The Advocate is reporting.

It's what many gay-rights advocates have been hoping for—an agreement to get the repeal inserted into the Department of Defense authorization bill—and it looks today as if they might just get it. "In a perfect world we would have unconditional repeal with nondiscrimination protections built in," says a source close to the talks reached by NEWSWEEK. "But this is very, very good, this is definitely a clear path forward," says the source. That said, with a lack of nondiscrimination protections built into amendment language, "No one is getting everything they want," the source says.

Those in the meetings, according to the source, included representatives from the Human Rights Campaign, the Palm Center, Servicemembers United, and Service Members Legal Defense Network and aides to Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Sen. Carl Levin, and Rep. Patrick Murphy, who would shortly be seeking further guidance from the White House on the amendment language, "and we understand that the White House will respond favorably," says the source. The White House meeting, according to the source, included deputy chief of staff Jim Messina, White House Director of Public Engagement Tina Tchen, and Alison Nathan of the White House counsel's office.

The compromise being hammered out would include repeal this year, however the implementation of the repeal would not begin until after the Pentagon's working-group study is completed in December. The repeal would also require certification from President Obama, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and the Joint Chiefs Chair Adm. Mike Mullen that the law would not have a negative impact on troop readiness or recruitment, according to The Advocate. It would also not include a nondiscrimination policy and would return authority for the open service of gays and lesbians back to the Pentagon. "It's not saying ‘no' to a nondiscrimination policy," said the source close to the talks. "It's just that the rulemaking will go back to the Pentagon."

If the repeal is inserted into the bill and passed, it would mean that gay-rights advocates would be trusting the Pentagon to do what they hope for—which is allow for open service and eventually include nondiscrimination protections—a leap of faith given years of opposition to the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. But recent testimony of top Pentagon officials in support of repeal has perhaps persuaded gay advocates to do what years ago might have seemed impossible: trust the military to look after their best interests. Both the House and the Senate Armed Services Committee are expected to vote on the bill later this week. Why inserted in the bill? Because when it reaches the Senate it would take 60 votes to strip it out, which would be a hurdle for opponents of repeal.

Lt. Daniel Choi, who is being discharged from the Army for being gay and has become an activist fighting for the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, tells NEWSWEEK that the news leaking out of today's meetings "just shows that the pressure we and all activists have putting on the administration cannot be ignored." Choi says that moving forward with the repeal, even if all the details are not immediately in place, "is the same thing that happened with the integration of blacks and women. You start with a moral decision."

"This is a good thing," says Choi. If it happens. "I'm not going to be happy until people stop getting fired."

Join the Discussion