Ari Ezra Waldman | Don't Ask, Don't Tell | News | Patrick Murphy

The Anniversary of the End of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'


IMG_0657Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend the Servicemembers' Legal Defense Network's (SLDN) party on the Intrepid to celebrate the first anniversary of the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT).

Many of the usual suspects were there: Admiral Mike Mullen (right, with his wife), the retired Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who championed open service; Major Margaret Witt and Colonel Victor Fehrenbach, the officers who successfully challenged DADT in federal court; Eric Alva, the first American injured in the latest war in Iraq; Captain Stephen Snyder-Hill, the openly gay soldier who was booed at a Republican debate months ago and has since gotten married; Joseph Rocha, the repeal activist and young sailor who suffered abuse at the hands of his commander and colleagues in his elite explosive detection unit; City Council Speaker Christine Quinn; MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts.

Admiral Mullen spoke at the VIP reception, reminding us that gay service members are just as honorable and brave as their heterosexual peers, and was honored during the official program. The former congressman and veteran Patrick Murphy, the author of the Repeal Act in the House, worked the room and expressed genuine humility and satisfaction that he had the honor to play a role in ending such odious discrimination.

I spent the evening with some friends, catching up with colleagues at my old law firm (I am proud that Winston & Strawn LLP was a supporting sponsor of the event), and asking random people the following question: How does the repeal of DADT impact progress on other gay rights issues like the marriage, employment discrimination, and DOMA?

My sample was too small and too biased to constitute a reliable study (many people declined to respond, the attendees were overwhelmingly white and male), but it gives us an indication of the personal and political meaning of the end of DADT's work.


IMG_0667A member of the Marines said the end of DADT "meant the world to" him. His friend, a civilian who admitted he "never even considered spending one second in the military," nevertheless felt "proud" that his friend could finally be "an equal member of the Marines." A sailor in uniform said, "The end of DADT is the beginning of the end for everything else. If we can fight and die for our country, it's hard to justify discriminating against us." Another young man in our little circle disagreed, arguing that "there's a lot more to do, even in the military. We shouldn't get complacent." The two men started a civil discussion about it as I walked away.

Three women in uniform agreed that repeal was "the greatest moment of [their] lives." When I asked about discrimination faced by women, they demurred. But a veteran standing nearby followed up: "Sure, there's discrimination. There probably always be. But, you don't understand. DADT wasn't just any old discrimination. It forced you to lie about who you are. It compromised your honor and made you sick to your stomach. It told you that who you are is somehow wrong. How would you feel if someone told you that every hour of every day?" A well-dressed young man came over and said, "And, that's how gays feel in most of this country anyway. We can't marry, we can be fired for who we are."

Many civilian commentators repeated this theme and others expressed feelings of satisfaction; phrases like "the sky didn't fall" came up more than a few times. Most military commentators were simply happy. You could sense that a collective weight had been lifted from the room, that, for the first time, freedom is at hand and more is on the horizon. Men in uniform abounded, no longer worried about being identified as gay. Still, there was a hint of uncertainty: many refused to give their names, others shied away from the bright yellow name tag that indicated 'PRESS'.

So, what, if anything, does this tell us? First, many people declined to answer the question, focusing instead on their happiness at the end of DADT and desire to celebrate a great victory. I can't blame them. Second, the end of DADT is not the end of the story. Some service members may be worried about harassment and more subtle discrimination, or they may not be the kind of men and women who want to be in the spotlight. I can understand that. 

But, we cannot deny that the end of sexual orientation discrimination in the military can be persuasive in the fights to end other anti-LGBT discrimination. As one VIP attendee noted, it is hard to justify discrimination against people who are fighting and dying for their country with honor. The argument goes further: The conclusions Judge Phillips made in Log Cabin Republicans v. United States, the federal challenge to DADT that declared the entire law unconstitutional, and the statements from congressmen and senators are indicators of official judicial and legislative opinions on the merit of any kind of discrimination against gays.

That is, we now have court records and legislative history to prove that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is pointless, ridiculous, and disgusting. The end of DADT will advance the cause of marriage recognition: openly gay service members will want to enjoy the right to marry, in uniform and on base; it will force us to confront the denial of federal benefits to the legally married spouses of gay service members; it will be incontrovertible proof that treating gays equally is not only not harmful but also part of our constitutional tradition.


Ari Ezra Waldman teaches at Brooklyn Law School and is concurrently getting his PhD at Columbia University in New York City. He is a 2002 graduate of Harvard College and a 2005 graduate of Harvard Law School. His research focuses on technology, privacy, speech, and gay rights. Ari will be writing weekly posts on law and various LGBT issues. 

Follow Ari on Twitter at @ariezrawaldman.

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  1. You failed to mention that DADT served as a pillar supporting other forms of discrimination. DADT was used to buttress the arguments of those who, among other things, oppose marriage equality. With the end of DADT, the foundations of their arguments are weakened.

    Posted by: Gay Dad ATL | Sep 19, 2012 12:45:58 PM

  2. YAY!!!

    Posted by: Pommie | Sep 19, 2012 12:47:14 PM

  3. YAY!!!

    Posted by: Pommie | Sep 19, 2012 12:47:18 PM

  4. ".....reminding us that gay service members are just as honorable and brave as their heterosexual peers....."

    So have we now progressed as far as what Phillip of Macedon said in 338 BC of The Sacred Band of Thebes after the Battle of Chearonae :

    "Perish any man who suspects that any of these men did or suffered anything unseemly."

    What a crippled society we have had for two thousand years, poisoned by prejudice, inflamed by the rhetoric of religion; a squalid little human society built on bile towards whatever scapegoats we could lay our hands on.
    Getting back to 338 BC and the respect that Phillip of Macedon showed his fallen enemies is be a step forward.....
    Who would have thought it ?
    Yet still the Bachmans and Romneys and Ryans and Perkins howl their bigotry.

    Posted by: JackFknTwist | Sep 19, 2012 12:54:48 PM

  5. AARGGGH! 1. "sexual orientation discrimination IN the military" has NOT ended. LGB service members are officially and, most importantly, arbitrarily banned from protections against harassment and on-the-job discrimination under the Military Equal Opportunity program automaticall given to nongays on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, and religious or political official. Further, contrary to popular myth, not all partner benefits are banned by DOMA but the Pentagon has CHOSEN to deny gay military couples some of those including highly coveted access to "military family housing."

    2. At the urging of the Obama DOJ, the Circuit Court overruled "the conclusions Judge Phillips made in Log Cabin Republicans v. United States" declaring that any kind of discrimination by the military on the basis of sexual orientation is unconstitutional."

    The repeal of the ban on open service by LGBs was absolutely huge, but it is not the end of their battle for equality in uniform, not to mention the continuing ban on transgender service.

    Posted by: Michael Bedwell | Sep 19, 2012 3:02:43 PM

  6. @Michael Bedwell: The Circuit Court did not over-rule the District Court in the Log Cabin case. They simply vacated the District Court decision and its factual record. To overturn the decision would mean that they believed DADT to be unconstitutional. They did not rule on the merits.

    Posted by: Bill S. | Sep 19, 2012 5:17:46 PM

  7. @ Bill S: however you want to spin it, the bottom line is Mr. Waldman was wrong in asserting any remaining viable "official" benefit from the District judge's LCR case ruling. I could quote multiple rulings from the past that such discrimination is unconstitutional including affirmations by Circuit Courts, e.g., in the cases of Perry Watkins and Miriam Ben-Shalom, but the actions of various kinds by higher courts erased their ongoing significance. Any other interpretation is to suggest that Lawrence v. Texas is meaningless because the earlier Supremes bench upheld sodomy laws in Hardwick.

    Posted by: Michael Bedwell | Sep 19, 2012 7:44:49 PM

  8. Happy DADT Repeal Day from - the social network of gay active duty military, vets & supporters in a post Don’t Ask Don’t Tell era.

    Posted by: Out Military | Sep 20, 2012 9:28:37 AM

  9. It is very of use for me. bulky thumbs up for this weblog post

    Posted by: jpdsa | Jan 19, 2013 3:25:47 AM

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