Gays in Military Compromise?

It appears that the Obama Administration and Congress have a deal on ending the ban on homosexuals serving openly in the armed forces.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg for NYT:

President Obama, the Pentagon and leading lawmakers reached agreement Monday on legislative language and a time frame for repealing the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, clearing the way for Congress to take up the measure as soon as this week.

It was not clear whether the deal had secured the votes necessary to pass the House and Senate, but the agreement removed the Pentagon’s objections to having Congress vote quickly on repealing the contentious 17-year-old policy, which bars gay men and lesbians from serving openly in the armed services.

House Democratic leaders were meeting Monday night and considering taking up the measure as soon as Thursday. But even if the measure passes, the policy cannot not change until after Dec. 1, when the Pentagon completes a review of its readiness to deal with the changes. Mr. Obama, his defense secretary and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff would also be required to certify that repeal would not harm readiness.

The measure could enable gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military for the first time, ending a policy that Mr. Obama, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, all say they oppose.

Representative Patrick J. Murphy, Democrat of Pennsylvania and a leading advocate in the House for repeal, is hoping to attach the proposal to a defense authorization bill that will come up for a vote on Thursday.

In the Senate, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, intends to introduce the language on Thursday in the Armed Services Committee.

Michael Shear and Ed O’Keefe for WaPo’s Post Politics add:

In a letter to lawmakers pushing for a legislative repeal, White House budget director Peter Orszag wrote Monday that the administration “supports the proposed amendment.” “Such an approach recognizes the critical need to allow our military and their families the full opportunity to inform and shape the implementation process through a thorough understanding of their concerns, insights and suggestions,” he wrote.


Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who is running for reelection and had previously supported a repeal of the law, said at a recent congressional hearing that the legislation is “imperfect but effective” and that “we should not be seeking to overturn.”

Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.), a member of the House GOP leadership, said Monday of a repeal: “The American people don’t want the American military to be used to advance a liberal political agenda. And House Republicans will stand on that principle.”


“It is our firm belief that it is time to repeal this discriminatory policy that not only dishonors those who are willing to give their lives in service to their country but also prevents capable men and women with vital skills from serving in the armed forces,” Lieberman and Murphy said in a statement.

If the compromise is approved, the 1993 policy could be removed from the nation’s law books within weeks. That would satisfy one of the most significant promises Obama made to the gay community during his campaign.

It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.   While homosexuality has been normalized enough that we have a president, SECDEF, Joint Chiefs chairman, and probably a majority in Congress willing to go on the record to support gays serving in the military — something that decidedly wasn’t the case when Bill Clinton took office in 1993 — it’s still a hot button issue in much of the country.   Referenda to ban gay marriage, for example, seem almost always to pass easily.

Will Republicans mount a filibuster on this issue?   I doubt it.   And it’s going to be very difficult to mount a credible argument opposing lifting the ban once the Pentagon certifies — which it almost certainly will — that doing so will not harm morale or be prejudicial to good order and discipline in the military.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. elizabeth halloway says:

    It’s a brand new world, people. There are gays, transsexuals, folks who smoke pot, “reality” shows, women who want to control their own bodies, etc.. We’re all human & have to live together, like it or not. First step–acknowledge & accept. Anything else will frustrate your OWN ability to live in peace–& we know where frustration leads, don’t we?

  2. TangoMan says:

    I wonder how, or if, the UCMJ treats equal protection issues. If it’s a violation for a male to bunk with a female or to shower with her, presumably because the female feels threatened, violated, or ill at ease, then what’s going to be done about male heterosexuals who feel threatened, violated or ill at ease when they bunk with or shower with male homosexuals. Clearly, the actions of the male bunking with, or showering with, a female are not determinative, it’s their mere presence that creates discomfort and this would also be the case with any male heterosexual who finds the mere presence of a man who is attracted to men to be cause for discomfort.

    Men and women are able to serve together but there are limits placed on full integration. Gays and Straights can serve together but will they be forced to integrate fully and if so, why would women be given more protection than hetero males?

    If the UCMJ takes action in cases between men and women, and the same sexual undercurrent dynamic applies with regards to homosexuals, then the circle will need to be squared.

  3. JB says:

    80% of Americans favor ending the ban. so if there’s near universal agreement, how is it a “hot button” issue?

  4. James Joyner says:

    80% of Americans favor ending the ban. so if there’s near universal agreement, how is it a “hot button” issue?

    The other 20% cares more.

  5. milprof says:


    Gay marriage isn’t the right analogy here. Polling on DADT vs gay marraige has diverged since the early 1990s — opposition to gays in the military has dwindled while opposition to gay marriage has declined much more slowly. Even among self-identified conservatives, weekly churchgoers, and white Southerners, polls show there is majority support for open gay service (even as those groups still remain strongly against gay marriage).

    I suppose it’s partly semantics — there are still tens of millions who oppose (out of 300 mil) and for many of them no doubt it is a “hot button” issue. But it’s a far smaller group than that which is against gay marriage, so I expect the politics to look different.

    On a side note, among the field-grade military officers I deal with, there isn’t much opposition anymore — not enthusiasm either, but generally a sense that in the scheme of problems the U .S. military has to deal with this decade, moving to open gay service isn’t in the top 20.