White House issues new language on “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy

Policy change, or poor editing?

In a move that many people I’ve spoken with see as a shift in policy, and a backward step from a clear campaign promise that was reiterated during the first days of January of this year, the White House has changed the language on its “Civil Rights” page, as it concerns gay civil rights. The changes were first noted yesterday by gay blogger JoeMyGod. And while most of the deletions noted yesterday have since been un-deleted, the new language on President Obama’s commitment to repeal the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy appears to indicate a significant change in policy, for the worse.

Prior to yesterday, approximately one half of the White House Web site’s Civil Rights page was devoted to gay civil rights. It specifically included 8 promises:

Including sexual orientation in America’s already-existing Hate Crimes law.
Passing ENDA.
supporting Civil Unions and explicitly repealing DOMA.
Opposing any constitutional amendment on marriage.
Repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
Expanding Adoption Rights to include gay parents.
Promoting AIDS Prevention.
Empowering women to prevent HIV/AIDS.

As of yesterday, that list of promises was distilled into two sentences, and included only 3 promises:

Passing ENDA.
Supporting Civil Unions, but no longer a mention of repealing DOMA.
Opposing the constitutional amendment.

In spite of yesterday’s change in language, a White House spokesman assured me last night that no change in policy was intended:

“As is the case with most websites, periodic changes are made to WhiteHouse.gov. Recently we overhauled the issues section to concisely reflect the President’s broad agenda, and will continue to update these pages. The President’s commitment on LGBT issues has not changed, and any suggestions to the contrary are false.”

At around the same time last night, the Civil Rights page was updated to include many of the previously omitted promises. Hate Crimes was now included as a news update, since the bill just passed the House, and AIDS is now included elsewhere on the White House Web site – all of which is fine.

There was, however, one bit of new language that caught the eye of a number of observers with whom I spoke last night:

[President Obama] supports changing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in a sensible way that strengthens our armed forces and our national security… [emphasis added]

Obama has repeatedly stated that he is for a full repeal of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. During a presidential forum held by the Human Rights Campaign in August of 2007, Obama said the following about DADT:

I will task the Defense Department and the senior command structure in every branch of the armed forces with developing an action plan for the implementation of a full repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell…. America is ready to get rid of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. All that is required is leadership.

And as late as January 10 of this year, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the following during a video Q&A; on the transition Web site:

Gibbs reads a question from Thaddeus in Lansing, Michigan. Thaddeus asks: “Is the new administration going to get rid of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy?”

Gibbs answers: “Thaddeus, you don’t hear a politician give a one-word answer much, but it’s ‘Yes.'”

Here is what the Web site used to say about Don’t Ask Don’t Tell:

Repeal Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell:
President Obama agrees with former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili and other military experts that we need to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The key test for military service should be patriotism, a sense of duty, and a willingness to serve. Discrimination should be prohibited. The U.S. government has spent millions of dollars replacing troops kicked out of the military because of their sexual orientation. Additionally, more than 300 language experts have been fired under this policy, including more than 50 who are fluent in Arabic. The President will work with military leaders to repeal the current policy and ensure it helps accomplish our national defense goals.

The language changed from a commitment to a “full repeal” of DADT to a commitment to “change” the discriminatory policy in a “sensible” manner. While the White House has assured us that this is not an indication of a change in policy, the language, on its face, appears to be a clear change in policy. Changing DADT is not repealing DADT. It is a commitment to keep the discriminatory policy in place, albeit with some alterations.

If the White House is still in favor of “repealing” Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, albeit in a “sensible way” – and we’re happy to take them at their word – then say just that. Change “change” to “repeal” and be done with it.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in New York City, and is the cofounder of TimeToResign.com. Bio, .

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