Republicans Lead the Way
on Repeal of “Don’t Ask
Don’t Tell”

The military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, that prevents gay and lesbian soldiers from serving openly, has been ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge in California.

U.S. district judge Virginia A. Phillips wrote in an 85-page opinion handed down late Thursday that the DADT statute, passed by Congress in 1993, violates both the First Amendment and due process rights of gay service members. Phillips further ordered a permanent injunction barring enforcement of DADT.

“The evidence at trial demonstrated that [DADT] does not further significantly the Government’s important interests in military readiness or unit cohesion, nor is it necessary to further those interests,” Phillips wrote.

The verdict is one of a string of recent court victories for the gay and lesbian community. The first coming in Massachusetts last July when a federal judge ruled parts of the Defense of Marriage Act violated the U.S. Constitution, and again in August when another federal judge struck down California’s Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage in that state. (In another victory, the State Supreme Court ruled this week that state leaders are under no obligation to appeal the ruling, which Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown have no intention of doing.)

While the victories in the courts have been, well, surprising given the climate of the country around gay and lesbian issues – what surprises me most about the DADT decision is who brought the suit in the first place: The Log Cabin Republicans.

I admit, I have taken my share of potshots at gay Republicans … those two words don’t seem to rest well together given the anti-gay policies of the party and how vigorously it has worked in the past to defend DADT, derail the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and – as we saw in the 2004 and 2006 elections – use the lives of gays and lesbians as a wedge issue to gin up Republican voters.

Republicans have helped to win this round … who would have thunk it?

Alex Nicholson, Executive Director of Servicemembers United, did. He was one of the two plaintiffs in the lawsuit, filed back in 2004. In an interview with Religion Dispatches he said suing to end DADT was a natural fit for the Log Cabin Republicans.

“A lot of people see the word ‘Republican’ and have all these assumptions, but if you look at the core beliefs of the Log Cabin Republicans, they agree with the Republican Party on lots of things except gay rights,” he said. “Their fundamental principles are things like individual liberty, and an opposition of intrusion into your private life by the government  and they think DADT violates all those basic conservative principles.”

Nicholson, a member of LCR, joined the Army in 2001 and trained as a multi-lingual U.S. Army interrogator. He was outed in 2002 after another soldier read a letter he had written in Portuguese that disclosed his sexual orientation. He was later kicked out under DADT.

He called DADT a “cloud of fear” that gay and lesbian service members live under – a constant threat of being kicked out if their sexual orientation is revealed.

People like Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council (and a marine vet, btw), wants to keep that cloud of fear hovering over gay and lesbian service members.  He claims ending DADT will violate the religious liberty of chaplains.

”Chaplains will be muzzled in their ability to preach the whole council of God,” Perkins said. “In fact, I believe you will see a mass exodus of chaplains from the military if, in fact, the military is forced to throw open its arms to embrace homosexuality.”

Nicholson disagreed, saying religious beliefs were once used to make interracial marriage illegal – even in the military. Lifting that ban didn’t “muzzle” any chaplains.

“A chaplain in the military today can still oppose interracial marriage, but it’s legal in the United States and in the military. If one interracially marries or shows a propensity to date someone of another race, you’re not kicked out of the military for that. That does not impinge on anyone’s free speech or ability to practice their religion,” Nicholson said.

Using religion to argue against lifting DADT doesn’t make sense to Nicholson.

“People disguise prejudice and personal dislikes in the guise of religion all the time and I think this is just another example of people grasping for straws to figure out any possible way to oppose this inevitable change. DADT has nothing to do with religion or religious freedom or religious speech. An objective person can spot what a stretch it is to tie religion into any repeal of DADT,” he said.

And, as we’ve seen from Massachusetts to California, so can objective judges.