The Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: One Year Later

Antonio X. Garcia September 17, 2012 2
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WASHINGTON D.C. – With a stroke of a pen and a thunderous applause from onlookers, President Obama signed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act” on December 22, 2010, thereby ushering in a new pillar of equality in the LGBTQ Civil Rights movement. Nine months later, on Tuesday, September 20th, 2011, that repeal was officially complete. After nearly 18 years of enforcement, gays and lesbians from every color of the rainbow were on the verge of having yet another discriminatory wall torpedoed (pun intended), this time behind the work of our progressive president. Reaching this monumental milestone was not easy, however, as President Obama and the Democratically-controlled Congress faced fierce Republican opposition in allowing gays and lesbians the right to serve openly and honestly in the U.S. military. At times it even appeared the GOP would have their way in derailing the repeal, thanks to back-to-back filibusters in the Senate sponsored in large part by Senator John McCain (R-Ariz) who fought tirelessly in maintaining the status quo of DADT. The GOP’s argument was that allowing gays and lesbians the right to serve openly would harm military cohesion and would demoralize the armed forces. With no credible facts or scientific studies backing them up, they based their stance on pure assumption.

Americans, however, were not sold on that argument. A December 2010 Washington Post/ABC News poll found 77% of Americans favored allowing gays and lesbians the right to serve in the armed forces, and that support crossed all political affiliations (Democrats 86%, Republicans 74%, & Independents 74%). “The fact that it took the U.S. so long to repeal this antiquated (law) after so many countries have allowed gays to serve openly for years speaks very poorly for our country,” stated former Naval Petty Officer Remy B. Martinez, from his home in New York City. “Nonetheless, it’s a step in the right direction.”

Over 220-years of Discrimination

To better understand the overall magnitude of this repeal let’s look back at the history of the U.S. military’s policy on discharging gay and lesbian service members. The first documented case took place in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania in 1778 during the times of the American Revolutionary War. Lieutenant Gotthold Frederick Enslin of the Continental Army was accused of sodomy by another soldier and discharged by the directive of General George Washington*. Fast-forward 215 years (and thousands upon thousands of discharges) to 1993. President Clinton campaigned on a promise to allow gays and lesbians the right to serve openly but after facing a staunchly opposed Republican-controlled Congress, Clinton compromised and developed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The law’s original intent was to allow gays the right to serve, just as long as they did not disclose their sexuality to anyone, nor display any homosexual tendencies while serving. In essence the law can be described in this manner: you can defend, and fight for your country and you will be accepted among us… just as long as you lie and hide who you really are. Although DADT was seen as a milestone for the LGBT community at the time, the law resulted in the discharge of nearly 14,000 soldiers in its 18 years of enforcement, including over 50 Arab-linguistic gay and lesbian men and women.

A Militaristic Transition to Equality

Although the LGBTQ community was denied militaristic equality throughout the last 220+ years, the discriminatory ban has finally been vanquished from the ranks of the armed forces. So just how important is this repeal to our gay and lesbian service members? “It’s important to me because there is a stigma connected to being openly gay in the military,” said former Navy Corpsman Daniel P. of San Diego. Would you be comfortable taking a partner to a Military Ball or to a military family event? “Yes I would feel comfortable. The look on their faces might be interesting though,” Daniel continued. Another soldier was not as so enthusiastic. Marine Jesus Gutierrez from Camp Pendleton stated “It’s great and all but am I going to jump on a table and announce to the world that I’m gay? No way! It’s no one’s business. It will be business as usual.”

It may be business as usual for some soldiers, but changes are definitely on the way. It was recently announced that a new LGBTQ military magazine is on its way to publication and will be available, free of charge, to military personnel on bases throughout the country. Also, in states that allow same-sex marriage, military gay nuptials have already begun. In Vermont, Navy Lieutenant Gary Ross married his longtime partner, civilian Dan Swezy, at the stroke of midnight on Monday, September 19th. “We’ll feel it’s important that as soon as we’re allowed to commit to each other that we do. It’s important not to hide anymore,” Lt. Ross told the Associated Press. Assuming their marriage will not be the last within the armed forces, this will only mount more pressure on the Obama Administration to end the “Defense of Marriage Act” or DOMA, a 1996 law passed by a Republican-controlled Congress that prohibits federal marriage rights for partners or spouses of the same sex.

Another key development was the first-ever Gay Pride celebration this past June at the Pentagon.

Is U.S. same-sex marriage recognition far off?

Now that gays and lesbians are allowed to serve openly in the U.S. military, and if you take in to account the American public’s overwhelming support of the repeal and the increasing acceptance of the LGBTQ community, then it may be fair to suggest that marriage equality in the United States may not be too far off. Currently, six states and Washington D.C. allow same-sex marriage, and California’s voter-approved Proposition 8 was struck down by a federal appeals court. It is now pending a final appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court is expected to make a ruling early next year, 2013.

For now, the extinction of DADT can provide an additional light at the end of the tunnel for the gay and lesbian civil rights movement. A dominating question being placed before politicians and the American public alike is this… if an LGBTQ soldier is allowed to fight in defense of his or her country then shouldn’t they also be entitled to the same marriage rights and privileges that are afforded to their heterosexual counterparts? The answer continues to be politically divisive. Perhaps the words of President John F. Kennedy can offer the best motivation in our nation’s current, historic, civil rights movement: “This nation was founded by many men of many nations and backgrounds. It was founded on the principle that all men are created equal and that the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.” Words that define the very foundation of our great country.


-This article was originally published with our partner organization, the Latino Equality Alliance.


-Benemann, William (2006), Male-Male Intimacy in Early America: Beyond Romantic Friendships, Hayworth Press


  1. Richard Corral September 20, 2012 at 1:44 pm - Reply

    What a great synopsis…good work Antonio!

    • Antonio X. Garcia
      Antonio X. Garcia October 1, 2012 at 6:07 pm - Reply

      Thanks Corral! ;-D

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