Thursday marked the one-year anniversary for the repeal of the U.S. military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy for gay, lesbian and bisexual service members, an occasion gay rights advocates said should serve as a reminder of the work still needed to be done to ensure full equal rights for LGBT military personnel and their families.
established in 1993 under the Clinton administration, DADT banned openly
gay and lesbian people from serving in the armed forces. As a result of
the policy, more than 13,000 service members were discharged between
1994 and 2009, according to a 2011 study by the U.S. Government
Debate during the months leading up to the repeal were particularly contentious, as its opponents predicted such a move would prove to be detrimental for the military, resulting in breakdowns of unit cohesion and a sharp decline in recruitment levels.
One year later, it appears those concerns never came to fruition. According to the findings of a study released earlier this month by the California-based research institute, Palm Center, the repeal of DADT “has had no overall negative impact on military readiness or its component dimensions, including cohesion, recruitment, retention, assaults, harassment or morale.”
As such, many critics, including a number of Republican legislators who originally voted against the repeal, have since backed away from their previous stance to give moderate approval of the policy shift.
This is a point 10th Congressional District Democratic candidate Brad Schneider, of Deerfield, pointed out during a conference call held Thursday. Schneider criticized incumbent U.S. Rep. Robert “Bob” Dold (R-Kenilworth) for his voting record on gay rights issues.
“Congressman Dold voted to delay the repeal,” Schneider said. “It was an example of where he stands and why he stands out of touch with positions of the people of this district.”
Schneider also cited Dold’s opposition to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would provide legal protection against employee discrimination based on sexual orientation, as well as his votes in support of the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 federal law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman, which could soon be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court.
As Progress Illinois reported back in June, Schneider has been endorsed by civil rights group the Human Rights Campaign for his stance concerning gay rights issues. The same group had previously supported Dold’s predecessor, current Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk when he ran for re-election of his seat in 2006 and 2008.
Dold has stated on his campaign website that he is in favor of civil unions and would not support a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. In terms of DADT, Dold stated he did not support reinstatement of the policy, and that he opposed “discrimination of anyone in the workplace, period, and believe that everyone has the right to enjoy and expect equal protection under the law.”
But Dold was one of a number of Illinois congressional lawmakers, which included fellow Republicans representatives Adam Kinzinger (11), Joe Walsh (8), Aaron Schock (18), Bobby Schilling (17) as well as lone Democrat U.S. Rep. Daniel Lipinski (3), to vote in favor of the House version of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which included two provisions viewed by some as an attempt to roll back some of the rights won when DADT came to an end.
The first, introduced by U.S. Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO), would prevent any disciplinary action to be handed down against service members who were to express anti-gay views that were based on their personal, religious beliefs. It would also allow military chaplains to refuse having to perform certain rites. The second measure, sponsored by Mississippi U.S. Rep. Steve Palazzo, prohibits same-sex wedding ceremonies of any type from being performed at Defense Department facilities.
“It’s far beyond just [a matter of] people’s human rights,” said retired U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, who was one of the first soldiers wounded during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. “It is about allowing people to be happy, and no one has the right to prevent someone else’s happiness.”
If elected, Schneider said he would not vote in favor of those two amendments.
“There’s a difference in this race between rhetoric and record,” Schneider said. “If you look at my opponent’s record on all of these issues; whether it is marriage equality or turning Medicare into a voucher system or the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, he is in opposition or on the wrong side – we’re going to hold him accountable to his record and that’s what people should be judged on.”
The House version of the NDAA passed by a vote of 299-120 in June, and is currently under review by the Senate Armed Services Committee.
For soldiers such as Alva, the anniversary of the repeal of DADT meant finally being able to receive a level of recognition for a part of his identity he was forced to hide while serving his country for 13 years.
“People need to be respected for who they are and not judged based on their orientation or the color of their skin or their origin or their identity,” Alva said. “It’s very unfortunate when there are people on death row who have more rights than I do.”
Image: AP Photo/Harry Hamburg