07.26.09

Finally, Action on Gay Soldiers

The Daily Beast has learned that the Senate, prompted by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, will hold hearings on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"—a first since 1993, despite Obama's campaign promises.

After determining she didn’t have enough votes in support of a temporary suspension of the ban on gays in the military, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand tells The Daily Beast she has secured the commitment of Senate Armed Services Committee to hold hearings on “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” this fall. It would be the first formal re-assessment of the policy since Congress passed it into law in 1993.

A statement from the Gillibrand’s office, shared exclusively with The Daily Beast, notes that “265 men and women have been unfairly dismissed from the Armed Forces since President Barack Obama took office.”

Gillibrand’s fast-track proposal for halting DADT, an amendment to the Military Reauthorization Act that would have ordered the Defense secretary to stop investigating gay service members, was never introduced. Even with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid expressing his support, Gillibrand couldn’t gather the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster, according to a spokesperson.

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Sen. Gillibrand tells Jason why she opposes DADT in this exclusive interview.

“I thought it was a long shot from the very beginning,” says Aubrey Sarvis, executive director the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an organization fighting for the end of DADT.

“Clearly one of the positive things that came out of the Gillibrand amendment was that it served as a catalyst for hearings,” he added.

Gay-rights leaders expressed high hopes that Senate hearings could bring reluctant legislators around. According to a recent Gallup poll, 69 percent Americans think gays should be allowed to serve.

“Almost all serious experts who used to argue against allowing gays in the military have either changed course or died,” says Nathaniel Frank, author of Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America.

Charles Moskos, the Northwestern University sociologist who came up with the DADT policy, died last year. He “defended the [DADT] policy to his dying day,” says Frank.

No matter the outcome of Gillibrand’s hearings, the chances of DADT’s repeal look stronger in the House, where Iraq war veteran Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-PA) is taking the lead on a repeal bill called the Military Readiness Enhancement Act. Gay-rights lobbyists say he’s getting close to the 218 votes needed to pass the bill.

Momentum in Congress could help ease the pressure on the White House. After the Palm Center of the University of California at Santa Barbara released a report in May making the case that Obama could issue a stop-loss order for gay soldiers, Obama faced harsh criticism form the gay community for insisting only Congress could overturn DADT.

The controversy has caused bitter rifts and recriminations within the gay community. Leaders of some gay-rights organizations, particularly the Human Rights Campaign, came under attack from activists and bloggers who accused them of protecting their access to the White House by not pressuring the president on DADT.

The Palm Center plans to issue a report this week with the provocative title, “A Self-Inflicted Wound: How and Why Gays Give the White House a Free Pass on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.

A summary of the study, shared exclusively with The Daily Beast, says that “a network of gay and gay-friendly individuals and organizations worked to derail the possibility of a suspension of the ban," but the summary doesn’t name the individuals.

Jason Bellini is a freelance TV journalist who has worked for MTV, CBS, and CNN. In 2006, he received the Journalist of the Year award from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.