Last Monday my column included a quote from a Capitol Hill insider who worried that the Obama administration might be dragging its heels on repealing "don't ask, don't tell."
"I'm getting the sense they will try to ignore this as long as possible and then they will maybe trot out some commission to delay it another year if they are forced to do anything," said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Of course, a reporter is only as good as her sources and neither journalists nor their sources are infallible.
So when reports began to emerge Monday afternoon that President Barack Obama might include "don't ask, don't tell" in his State of the Union speech, I wondered if perhaps movement had begun that several of my sources had not picked up on.
During his speech, Obama did in fact state his intent to "work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are."
But how this would happen and within what time frame was left open -- until this weekend. Saturday, the Associated Press reported, "The Defense Department starts the clock next week on what is expected to be a several-year process in lifting its ban on gays from serving openly in the military."
The Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper, portrayed a similar process that begins with an investigation into repeal: "That upcoming inquiry -- and, ultimately, the end of the military's 'don't ask, don't tell' ban -- could take years to complete, officials have recently suggested."
Interestingly, Monday's New York Times piece -- presumably sourced by a White House aide rather than the Pentagon officials who seemed to inform the reporting of both the AP and The Hill -- avoided time lines and instead painted a resolute picture of the commander in chief.
"As a participant recounted one of the sessions, Mr. Obama told Defense
Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the
joint chiefs of staff, that the law was 'just wrong,'" read the
article. "Mr. Obama told them, the participant said, that he had
delayed acting on repeal because the military was stretched in two wars
and he did not want another polarizing debate in 2009 to distract from
his health care fight. But in 2010, he told them, this would be a
What none of these reports mention is actual congressional repeal of the law. After a year of the administration
telling reporters and the public that nothing could be done about the
policy until Congress acted to overturn the law, officials at the White
House and the Department of Defense both seem entirely focused on DOD
implementation, with one camp selling it as a 2010 priority and the
other camp selling it as a several-year process.
focus on changing the internal DOD regulations leaves any number of
questions about how long it will really take to complete a change so
that gay and lesbian soldiers can serve in full integrity. The
administration may succeed in easing the discharges to a slow trickle,
but if the law isn't repealed, it's difficult to see how lesbian and
gay soldiers could serve openly.
Certainly I welcome an end to
the witch hunts that some gay service members have suffered through the
pernicious third-party outings by scorned lovers and homophobic
But can "don't ask, don't tell" be dismantled
entirely without congressional repeal? My guess is no. And if not, congressional action may have only one shot during Obama's presidency
and that's this year. Democratic majorities -- if they even exist after
the 2010 midterms -- will be so weakened that the path to repeal will
lead straight over a cliff.
Trevor Yager, a gay entrepreneur from Indiana who was invited
to sit with the first lady during the State of the Union address, later
recounted a conversation he had with President Obama following the
"I thanked him for mentioning that in his speech, and
he shook my hand a second time and said, 'We will get it done. We will
get it done soon," Yager told The Indy Channel.
Soon. How soon? And in what fashion? Will it simply rejigger a failed policy begotten by the fates of political bargaining?
it release Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach, a veteran combat pilot who is in
the process of being discharged, from the clutches of the policy? Would
Lt. Dan Choi, an Arabic linguist who has already been discharged, be
welcomed back into service? And would it free those currently serving
overseas from closet of our nation's uniform?
After my anonymous
source last week suggested that the administration might roll out a
commission that would delay repeal by at least another year, the source
added, "It will be fascinating to see what the LGBT community does if
they do this."