It's not over til the last gavel strikes: How to repeal DADT this session

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This post was submitted by Michelle Benecke, a former Army Captain and Battery Commander, and a founder and former Executive Director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which is dedicated to repealing DADT and has provided direct legal assistance to more than 10,000 military members under this law.

Yesterday's Senate vote was disgraceful and disheartening. Contrary to the claims of some, however, this fight is not over. It is still possible to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) in this Session, if we have the will to fight. There are at least two options: amending the Omnibus bill pending in the Senate, and a stand alone bill.

The Omnibus spending measure is the one piece of legislation that will pass before the Senate goes home for the holiday. It funds every federal agency. While supporters would need to show "germaneness" under Senate rules, this should not be a high hurdle given the sheer breadth of the Omnibus and its many additional provisions for the Department of Defense. Once it passes the Senate, the Omnibus would be sent to the House for a vote.

The White House could help by releasing Secretary Gates to ask Congress to include DADT repeal in the Omnibus. Attorney General Holder sent such a letter recently concerning the Guantanamo detainees. Ideally, Representative Pelosi or Hoyer, the House workhorse, would say publicly they would consider the measure if sent to them, cutting off any arguments for delay.

On the stand alone measure, a Senate provision called Rule 14 is one way to do it. Basically, if we have the stomach to take one or two more shots at this -- as we must -- supporters can introduce Section 591 of the National Defense Authorization Act (or a clean repeal) as a freestanding bill, and have it Rule XIV'ed whereby it will go directly to the Calendar, bypassing the usual Committee process. Then they could work to get an agreement to take up this bill with no amendments and seek to get cloture on it. Having the tax bill on the floor will buy them some time to tee it up. If there is time left after taxes, they could give it one more shot. If successful, this bill would be sent to the House for a vote.

These paths are difficult, but they are absolutely possible. Senator Lieberman is right in pressing to stay until the job is done. Last year, Senator Reid (Majority Leader) kept the Senate in session 24/7 all the way through Christmas Eve to pass the health care bill, and he could do the same here to demonstrate this is a priority.

When I first developed the idea to start Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) more than twenty years ago, I was serving in the Army, surrounded by witch hunts and utterly alone. Although I survived the witch hunts, I ultimately resigned my commission and reluctantly left the military because of the previous policy and the ethical dilemmas it imposed.

While today's military members now have somewhere to turn for legal advice (SLDN), they continue to experience profound isolation and ethical dilemmas because of DADT, which requires them to live a double life and forbids them from confiding in parents, friends, doctors, anyone without risk of being outed and discharged. Like the sword of Damocles, this law hovers constantly, ready to take them out.

If we miss this window, it will be another five to ten years before legislation can make its way back to the fore - another five to ten years of living in constant fear for gay military members, having to guard against "friendly fire" under DADT even as they risk their lives fighting the enemy before them in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The time for repeal is now, in this Session. Military members who cannot speak for themselves under DADT are depending on us. It's not over until the last gavel strikes.

 

 

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