Though the majority of Americans support a repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," there are still a vocal few who continue to fight the Obama administration's efforts to end the antigay policy at every turn.
Case in point: At Tuesday's hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said they both support a repeal of the military's gay ban. Moments later, Sen. John McCain said he found Gates's announcement "deeply disappointing" and that he felt it came from a place of bias.
"There haven't been a lot of visible opponents in the past year, but we know they're there," Servicemembers Legal Defense Network director of communications Kevin Nix told The Advocate after Tuesday's hearing.
And in the months to come, as the issue plays out on the public stage, those opponents of repeal -- and those dedicated to seeing DADT scrapped -- are expected to take center stage. The Advocate takes a look at 12 men and women on both sides of the issue who have become the faces of "don't ask, don't tell."
DADT Opponent: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (Democrat, New York)
The Empire State's junior senator supported repealing "don't ask, don't tell" well before her appointment in 2009. As a representative, she served on the House Armed Services Committee. She was a key proponent of setting up Senate hearings on repealing a ban, including the hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday.
Quotes for Repeal
"This policy is wrong for our national security and wrong for the moral foundation upon which our country was founded." -- July 2009, announcing a Senate hearing on "don't ask, don't tell"
"We must recognize that human dignity and respect are part and parcel of who we were as Americans -- male or female, African-American or Caucasian, gay or straight, bisexual or transgender." -- February 2, 2010, responding to Tuesday's hearing on "don't ask, don't tell"
DADT Opponent: Sen. Carl Levin (Democrat, Michigan), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee
As chair of Senate Armed Services Committee, Levin has long been working to nail down a date on hearings, and he is an ardent supporter of repealing the ban. Quotes for Repeal
"I did not find the arguments used to justify "don't ask, don't tell" convincing when it took effect in 1993, and they are less so now. I agree with what President Obama said in his State of the Union address, that we should repeal this discriminatory policy." -- February 2, 2010, in a guest column for Politico.com
"Supporters of 'don't ask, don't tell' accuse those who would change it of trying to impose a social agenda on the military. But at this point in our history, when gays and lesbians openly work and succeed in every aspect of our national life, it is the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy that is out of step with our national character and the everyday experience of most Americans." -- February 2, 2010, in a guest column for Politico.com
DADT Opponent: Claudia Kennedy, retired lieutenant general, U.S. Army
Claudia Kennedy, who was at one time the highest-ranking woman in the military, has been a military consultant for President Barack Obama and Sen. John Kerry. Kennedy, who has been outspoken in her opposition to "don't ask, don't tell," is a 31-year Army veteran and is a member of the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame. She currently sits on the board of the American Security Project.
Quotes For Repeal
"['Don't ask, don't tell' is] a hollow policy that serves no useful purpose." -- May 2006, becoming one of several military leaders urging repeal
"I'm on a list of people who are against torture, against this antigay culture and a couple of other things and I do think there are several people working in a direction that says, 'Let's not try to impose our personal behavior on every single person in every instance.' There is so much diversity in the military - why would this not be an area that would help us? Because generally diversity strengthens an organization. Why would this aspect of diversity not have a strengthening effect?" -- August 2009, in an interview with the online publication A World of Progress
DADT Opponent: Nathaniel Frank, professor and senior research fellow for the Palm Center
Frank's book Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America has been heralded as one of the definitive books on the military's ban on gays in the military.
Quotes for Repeal
"The ban on openly gay service was not based on sound research because no research has ever shown that openly gay service hurts the military." -- March 2009, writing for USA Today
"The issue is not whether homosexuality is incompatible with military [policy]. The issue is knowledge -- knowing about these people in the military, and whether America can confront homosexuality head on." -- March 2009, while promoting his book Unfriendly Fire
"The evidence is overwhelming that a quick turnaround on policy change minimizes disruptions to unit cohesion and morale. If this is the goal, there should be no slow-rolling of the implementation process." -- February 2, 2010, to The Advocate
DADT Opponent: Lt. Dan Choi, infantry officer and Arabic linguist in the U.S. Army; founder of Knights Out, a West Point alumni group that supports the repeal of DADT
After Choi came out on The Rachel Maddow Show in March 2009, an initial discharge letter from the military was sent his way -- a final decision on his discharge is pending. Since March, Choi has stepped forward as an activist and become the poster child for victims of DADT.
Quote for Repeal
"I think that when somebody makes a decision to join the military, they don't join the military because they're gay or they're straight or to be more straight or to be more gay. They do it because they believe in the values of our country, that it's worth protecting, and that's the reason why I joined." -- February 2, 2010, speaking to Harry Smith on CBS's The Early Show
Army veteran and South Carolina native Aubrey Sarvis served as staff director and chief counsel to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation before joining SLDN in 2007, an "organization dedicated to ending discrimination against and harassment of military personnel affected by 'don't ask, don't tell.'" Sarvis has said the repeal is now about "the follow up, it's about the specifics, and it's about a time line." Sarvis will continue to serve as a watchdog on the issue, prodding Congress and military officials to bring the repeal to fruition. Quotes For Repeal "I believe Gates and Mullen will announce a protracted process. Will this just be the old, classic Washington way of doing business?" -- February 2, 2010, in an interview with The Washington Post
"We very much need a sense of urgency to get this done in 2010. We call on the president to repeal the archaic 1993 law in his defense budget currently being drafted, that is probably the only and best-moving bill where DADT can be killed this year." -- January 28, 2010, responding to Obama's State of the Union address
DADT Opponent: Alex Nicholson, founder of Servicemembers United, a national organization of gay military personnel and veterans
A former Army human intelligence collector discharged under DADT in 2002, Alex Nicholson, like Choi, is an example of the people directly affected by DADT. His group, Servicemembers United, is one of the largest LGBT military groups actively advocating to end the ban, so expect him to be front and center in the media. Quote for Repeal "After I got in, I realized that 'don't ask, don't tell' was much more all-inclusive and all encompassing. It was more like 'don't ask, don't tell, don't happen to be found out any time, any place, in any way.'" -- February 2, 2010, in an interview with CNN
DADT Supporter: Sen. John McCain (Republican, Arizona)
Sen. John McCain has never been a vocal supporter of gay rights, but it's also only recently that he's gone out of his way to advocate discrimination against gays and lesbians. Within minutes of President Obama concluding his State of the Union address in January, the former Republican presidential nominee issued a statement against repealing "don't ask, don't tell." McCain is an influential senator, and as discussion surrounding "don't ask, don't tell" heats up, his opposition to repealing the military's ban on gays and lesbians serving openly is more vocal than ever. Interestingly, his wife, Cindy, recently showed her support for marriage equality, one of the few times she's spoken in contradiction of her husband. Quote Against Repeal
"This successful policy has been in effect for over 15 years, and it is well understood and predominantly supported by our military at all levels. We have the best-trained, best-equipped, and most professional force in the history of our country, and the men and women in uniform are performing heroically in two wars. At a time when our Armed Forces are fighting and sacrificing on the battlefield, now is not the time to abandon the policy." -- McCain's statement after Obama's State of the Union address
DADT Supporter: Tony Perkins, president, Family Research Council
Family Research Council president Tony Perkins' mission in life (according to his organization's website) is to defend "faith, family and freedom" -- and as his statements have proven time and time again, that means preventing the advancement of gay rights whenever possible. Though the Family Research Council is not as influential as it once was, because of Perkins's ties to James Dobson and Focus on the Family it wields strong influence over conservative and, particularly, antigay voters and politicians.
"Our service members wear the uniform to fight and win wars, not serve as liberal-social-policy guinea pigs. The sexual environment the President is seeking to impose upon the young men and women who serve this country is the antithesis of the successful war-fighting culture, and as such should be rejected." -- in a February 2, 2010, Time magazine article published hours before Tuesday's hearing
DADT Supporter: Elaine Donnelly, president, Center for Military Readiness
Since testifying before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel in July 2008, Elaine Donnelly has been front and center, campaigning against a repeal of "don't ask, don't tell." Her Center for Military Readiness claims to deal in issues of military personnel generally, but Donnelly seems to have made it her life's work to prevent gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military, writing for The Washington Post and U.S. News and World Report, among others, and speaking on NPR and PBS. She is also a staunch supporter of the commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James Conway, who is strongly opposed to repealing "don't ask, don't tell." Quotes Against Repeal
"Trying to fulfill a reckless campaign promise, President Obama is pushing for repeal of the 1993 law stating that homosexuals are not eligible to serve in the military. As with plans to conduct trials of Mirandized terrorists in the United States, the commander in chief has assigned lower priority to the needs of the military and national security." -- February 1, 2010, in an article for the National Review Online
DADT Supporter: Rep. John Boehner (Republican, Ohio)
House minority leader John Boehner is going for the old "not the right issue, not the right time" approach to "don't ask, don't tell," saying Tuesday he thinks repealing the policy would be a distraction from getting "our economy back on plan and getting American people back to work." Boehner, who vocally opposed a gay-inclusive federal hate-crimes law and has spoken out against same-sex marriage, has emerged as one of Congress's leading opponents of repealing the ban.
Quotes Against Repeal
"In the middle of two wars and in the middle of this giant security threat, why would we want to get into this debate?" -- January 31, 2010, on NBC's Meet the Press
Gen. James T. Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps
The 34th and current commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James T. Conway, made his opinion of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy known long before Obama called for repeal during last week's State of the Union address. Conway has long said he feels lifting the ban would be disruptive during times of war and that he doesn't support repeal. Though Conway's four-year term ends in November, until then he promises to be a vocal opponent of ending "don't ask, don't tell." Quote Against Repeal
"Our Marines are currently engaged in two fights, and our focus should not be drawn away from those priorities. When the time is right, we have full confidence that we will be asked to provide the best military advice concerning the readiness of the Corps as it relates to this issue." -- November 2009, statement to The Washington Times