Damian Dovarganes/AP Photo
Former Army National Guard Lt. Dan Choi, an Arabic-speaking specialist dismissed under the "don't ask, don't tell' policy, outside the Beverly Hills Hotel in June 2009 while President Barack Obama attended a benefit dinner inside.
Former Army National Guard Lt. Dan Choi, an Arabic-speaking specialist dismissed under the "don't ask, don't tell' policy, outside the Beverly Hills Hotel in June 2009 while President Barack Obama attended a benefit dinner inside. Damian Dovarganes/AP Photo
President Obama vowed in the State of the Union Wednesday night to end "don't ask, don't tell," the policy that prohibits people who are openly gay from serving in the military. Since it was passed in 1993, thousands of gay service members have been kicked out.
But the president has made similar pledges before, and gay rights activists are becoming frustrated with the delay.
Aubrey Sarvis, who heads the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, was hoping for something more from the president's speech on Wednesday night.
"I would have liked to have heard more specifics," Sarvis said. "But we've come to learn in the past year that's not the president's style."
Rep. Patrick Murphy, an Iraq war veteran, is taking the lead in urging Congress to pass a law that would change Pentagon policy and permit gay service members to serve openly.
The Democrat from Pennsylvania says "don't ask, don't tell" is forcing good people out of the military — helicopter mechanics, Arab linguists, medics — at a time when polls show strong support from within the military for changing the policy.
But Murphy lacks enough support in Congress to push forward any legislation. He has 187 supporters, but he needs dozens more for a majority.
"Washington is a tough place to make change happen," Murphy says. "I think Congress needs to get a backbone. It's up to Congress to overturn that law, it's not even the president's responsibility."
Right now, Congress is looking to the military for advice. But the Joint Chiefs of Staff are decidedly cool to the idea of changing the policy while they're fighting two wars. They fear allowing gays to serve openly could harm morale, and even cause some sergeants and officers to resign.
Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said last year that he favors a "go slow" approach, even if "don't ask, don't tell" does comes to an end.
"Should this occur," Mullen says, "I think we need to implement it in a way that recognizes the challenges and the stress that we're under right now."
The White House is looking at several options. One calls for attaching the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" to the annual defense bill, a measure that Congress must pass.
Another option? Keep current policy, but carry it out in a more "humane" way. That means making it harder to kick someone out just for being gay.