Don’t Ask About Obama’s DADT Policy

The now infamous political compromise of convenience, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” has already been ruled unconstitutional. This shouldn’t be a surprise – the momentum has been shifting lately in favor of expanded gay rights, the last major victory being when California’s Proposition 8 was also deemed unconstitutional in district court. But now it has suffered a setback after a 56-43 vote in the Senate failed to invoke cloture for a defense authorization bill that included a repeal of the controversial policy.

President Obama has expressed his support for a repeal of the controversial policy, and expressed support for gay rights in general on multiple occasions, yet his official actions and his continued stance against gay marriage tell a different story. It seems that the repeal will happen in spite of the president.

There is nothing out of the ordinary here – the United States government is compelled to defend all existing laws, even if the people in charge disagree with them. For this reason, even though President Obama may celebrate with activists and his liberal base on this recent court victory, the department of justice may nevertheless appeal the decision. It is easy to support a cause with words and encouragement, but without action to back it up, such verbal and passive support is not worth much when it counts. There are other actions the Obama Administration could have taken to combat the policy, such as an executive order putting on hold the expulsion of soldiers pending the completion of the legal battle. And of course, Congress could have repealed it (as the House voted to do so), but the Senate delayed that opportunity with its recent vote.

But all of this has little to do with how members of Congress or the Obama Administration actually feel, and more to do with politics. The Senate waited until John McCain’s primary battle ended to start debate on the subject with his support (though he ended up voting against starting that debate anyway). This is going to be a difficult election season for the democrats, so of course they would want to avoid touchy wedge issues like this one, but this issue is an obvious one for them – anyone that is against the repeal of DADT is probably not going to vote for a democrat anyway. For the same reason, President Obama’s lack of more direct action on this issue probably wouldn’t win over anyone opposed to him – but it will certainly stick in the minds of his supporters on the left, and not in a good way.

Aside from his lack of pushing the cause forward, the President’s stance on gay marriage seems to contrast sharply with his rhetoric of greater civil rights. This too is political. The issue of gay marriage is still contentious, and the recent court battle over prop 8 is not going away, promising to go national and most likely all the way to the Supreme Court. I find it hard to believe that the President actually believes what he says about gay marriage. Then again, perhaps I am just one of those Obama supporters that is making up excuses or refusing to see that the president is not nearly as liberal as I would have believed. That would certainly account for his wimpy stance on the DADT repeal.

Regardless of the president’s actual beliefs, and despite largely unified support for both the repeal of DADT and gay marriage, the two are not the same thing. While many may find the President’s lack of support for gay marriage and his vocal support for repealing DADT to be a clear instance of hypocrisy, that is not necessarily the case. The issues are starkly different, and for many, it is easier to support the right of gay soldiers to serve, a self-sacrificing and honorable thing to do, than the right to marry, which is much more commonplace and widespread.

The values are different as well, as DADT has little to do with the moral issues and personal beliefs that motivate opposition to gay marriage. This is why there are more people who oppose DADT than those who support gay marriage. But as the old adage goes, to move a mountain you must begin by carrying away small stones. DADT is not the end of the road; it is just one of the rocks that must be moved before gay rights can be fully achieved and embraced by the country at large. When that day comes, I’m sure President Obama will stand with them.

Kerry M. Wakely is a third-year political science major. He can be reached at kwakely@uci.edu.