'Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell' Teetering as Senators Nelson, Collins Support Compromise

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Scholars and experts from the Palm Center clarify what is happening with 'don't ask, don't tell'.

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It appears the fifteen vote threshold necessary for passage of Senator Lieberman’s amendment is very near. ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ is teetering and is set to fall

The Palm Center issued a statement following the announcement from Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) on Wednesday supporting the amendment offered by Senator Lieberman to undo the 'don’t ask, don’t tell' law. The amendment will be offered as part of the FY2011 Defense Authorization legislation.

“It appears the fifteen vote threshold necessary for passage of Senator Lieberman’s amendment is very near. ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ is teetering and is set to fall,” stated Aaron Belkin Director of the Palm Center.

Senator Ben Nelson’s public statement comes one day after Republican Susan Collins (R-ME) became the first Republican in the Senate since 1993 to support a change to the law.    

Senator Lieberman and Congressman Murphy’s amendments would repeal 'don’t ask, don’t tell following the receipt of the Pentagon Study Group’s review as well as the final sign off from the President, Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Palm Center Deputy Executive Director Christopher Neff released a memorandum to answer questions and addresses current concerns regarding the compromise amendment. He stated, “Our analysis concludes that any change to 'don’t ask, don’t tell' is a total change to ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ The central principle is the shift from a policy which bans gay service to a policy which allows open service. In addition, we see the real difference between the options to be the shift from a congressional (statutory) mandate implementing a non-discrimination policy to an Administrative responsibility through DoD directives/implementing regulations or by Executive Order specifically.” The memorandum reads:

1.) The Lieberman Amendment has the same goals as H.R. 1283 and S.3065, the Military Readiness Enhancement Act:

  • Repeal of 10 USC 654 and enabling the lifting of the ban; and
  • Allowing for a non-discrimination policy based on open service.

2.) The Obama Administration has done more for gay troops than any government in American history:

  • This compromise would return military personnel policy to an Administration which supports open service; and
  • President Obama has already taken significant steps at moving past the current law through Administrative actions regarding current investigations and discharges.

3.) Study Group actions to welcome buy-in from service members are not a threat:

  • Welcoming buy-in is not determinative (leadership is), yet outreach is important and survey data continues to show increasing support for open service by gay troops. A majority of junior-enlisted support repeal; 75% of troops report know someone who is gay in their unit and open service has never represented a significant concern by troops when polled.
  • In addition, no independent evidence-based review of openly gay service in the U.S. military has ever concluded that openly gay service would pose a risk to unit cohesion or military readiness. It is reasonable to conclude that the Study Group’s analysis would be similar.

4.) Open service 1.0 - options will follow repeal:

  • Any affirmative non-discrimination policy will be determined by the Administration rather than by Congressional statute.
  • Options include regulatory action within the Department of Defense and an Executive Order.

The Palm Center is a think tank at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Since 1998, the Center has been a leader in commissioning and disseminating research in the areas of gender, sexuality, and the military. For more information visit: PalmCenter.org.


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Laura McGinnis
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