Hearings by House Committee and Military Boards offer proof that DADT isn’t over

Last week gave us some clear indications that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell isn’t over. From the Derek Morado case to the DADT hearing on Capitol Hill, we saw that there are still threats to individual service members and the process to ending the repeal.

As we all know by now, last week, Derek Morado was allowed to remain in the Navy after a DADT investigation that resulted in an Administrative Separation Board hearing. The Board voted to keep him in the Navy. That was great news. But, it also showed that service members still face the reality of discharge. Still.

Because this was a pending matter, SLDN didn’t comment on it in advance of last week’s hearing — until now. I had the chance to talk to Aubrey Sarvis about Morado, the status of DADT certification and what we can expect from the anti-repeal forces in the House.

Since 2009, two SLDN attorneys have worked alongside two military JAG attorneys to defend Morado. In 2010, the SLDN attorney working on this case – as well as the JAG lawyer representing Morada – believed that the case had been successfully closed. That assumption and corresponding signals from the Navy were wrong. For some unknown reason, the case was reopened a few weeks ago. Derek was assigned a new military attorney, but SLDN attorneys stayed with the case and advised the new JAG attorney on the ground right up until the Board hearing last week. Fortunately, Derek got the right result.

Aubrey said it’s become clear to SLDN that most commands are not interested in recommending that service members be discharged under DADT at this late date in the process. But, that’s not true for all commands.

Actually, the outcome the Morado case does not mean that other service members are safe from investigations and discharge under DADT. In fact, this servicemember’s case underscores that reality. All gay service members remain at risk until full repeal takes place. SLDN wants certification completed in the next 30 days. Derek’s case won’t be a total victory until DADT is completely gone.

SLDN doesn’t reveal the specifics in the cases it’s working on because of attorney-client privilege. But, Aubrey told me their lawyers still have approximately 100 open cases right now. And, these are only the cases SLDN knows about because servicemembers have contacted the organization. Since the President signed the legislation, new DADT investigations have been initiated. Last month, one of SLDN’s clients in the Midwest was recommended for discharge under DADT. They’ll continue fighting that case, but it is stark evidence that some commands are not letting up. Fortunately, in that same command, another servicmember won his board hearing in March.

Aubrey reiterated throughout our conversation that “the job is not done.” We saw that last week during the House Subcommittee on Military Personnel, led by Representative Joe “You Lie” Wilson (R-SC) hearing on DADT repeal. Our post on the hearing, GOP Homophobia was on display at hearing on DADT repeal implementation, is here. Aubrey thought the hearing was a “shot across the bow from repeal opponents.”

No doubt, some members of the House would like to just repeal the repeal. We’ll get a better sense of the strategy during the full Committee hearing on Thursday when the Joint Chiefs testify. House Armed Services Chairman Bud McKeon has been an ardent opponent of repeal. You can bet Elaine Donnelly is working with the anti-repeal members of the Committee to shape their questions and their strategy. Donnelly sent out a fundraising email today, which states, “Our goal is to convince members of Congress that they must intervene with tough questions and an appropriate statement to the Administration summarized in three words: ‘Not so fast!'” And, she also wrote, “A successful hearing this week is critical to slow this process down.” Delay is the short-term goal.

Because the certification process continues to play out, there are more opportunities for GOP mischief. Next month, the House and Senate Armed Services Committee will begin marking up the 2012 Defense Authorization legislation. Last year at this time, we were pushing our allies in Congress to add the repeal language to the 2011 version of the bill (against the wishes of Secretary Gates.) This year, we might be fighting efforts to weaken or delay the repeal — and should have Gates on our side.

It’s going to be interesting to see if the GOP House leaders, John Boehner and Eric Cantor, let McKeon concoct a repeal-related amendment that warrants a vote on the House floor. The GOP caucus may want recorded votes on some plan to “derail, defund or delay” repeal. Polls showed that almost 80% of the American people supported repeal, but that hasn’t stopped them so far.

DADT repeal is already an issue for some of the GOPers in the 2012 presidential election. SLDN sent letters to the three GOP presidential candidates who want to repeal the DADT repeal (Huckabee, Barbour and Pawlenty), urging them to focus on the actual policy, to read the Pentagon report and to back away from their commitments to repeal the repeal. But, they’re not interested in policy, they’re just feeding red meat to their hard-core homophobic base. I don’t see how that helps in a general election. It makes Republicans seem really out-of-touch.

Bottom line is that it’s not over. There are forces conspiring against full repeal — and, they’ve got allies in key positions of power. We don’t need any foot-dragging on certification. That process should be completed by June or early July — if not sooner. And, SLDN says sooner is better for servicemembers at risk. And, no delaying, defunding or derailing along the way.

On October 27, 2010, Joe was one of five bloggers who interviewed President Obama. Joe is a DC-based political consultant with over twenty-five years of experience at both the state and federal level. Joe has managed political operations and legislative efforts for both candidates and issues-based organizations. For seven years, he was the Director of State Legislation at Handgun Control, Inc. He served as that organization's first Political Director during the 2000 cycle. Joe is a graduate of the University of Maine School of Law. In addition, he has a Masters in Public Administration from Lehigh University and received his B.A. from the University of New Hampshire. Joe also has a fun dog, Petey, a worthy successor to Boomer, who got Joe through eight years of Bush and Cheney. Joe likes to think he is a world class athlete having finished the 2005 Chicago Marathon in the time of 4:10. He has completed six other marathons as well -- and is still determined to break the four hour mark.

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