Now, the challenges ahead. For starters, the change in law does not go far enough. It does not ban discrimination, but merely ends the policy of firing those who are found to be gay. It does not include a mechanism to formally redress the grievances of those who suffer from discrimination. Same-sex couples remain second-class patriots, as federal law will continue to deny them numerous benefits and protections given to their heterosexual peers. Reinstatement and back pay issues must still be resolved. The Uniform Code of Military Justice remains unchanged, making all kinds of non-missionary sex, along with adultery, into jailable offenses. And, unconscionably, the change in law does not alter the fact that transgender service members still cannot serve in uniform.
The passing of “don’t ask, don’t tell” is a victory for all Americans. But it’s not the end of the line. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” — the policy and even the mere phrase — says much about who we are as Americans. What we do in its wake will help shape what it means to be an American in the twenty-first century — well beyond the rise and fall of this bizarre and convoluted law. As we bury this policy, we must ask if we’ve learned anything from its many failures. What its history suggests is how far we, as a culture, have yet to go in achieving a vision of democratic freedom marked by genuine moral autonomy, one which does not rely on collective fictions — about sexuality or about anything else — to function.
Frank also has a great paragraph explaining why the right-wing was so fixated on stopping the repeal:
One of the most insidious – and effective – dimensions of the gay ban was that it deprived the world of witnessing gay people giving back, serving their country, exhibiting the same valor and self-sacrifice as their peers. That’s why the right wing fixated on gays in the military – because if the world could see that gay men and women were proud, effective warriors, and were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country, it would shatter the careful apparatus of myths they’d spent generations creating, the fiction that said gay people were only interested in their own pleasure and not, in equal parts to everyone else, in the noble effort to serve the greater good. It would shatter the myth that gay people are incapable of self-sacrifice and unworthy of first-class citizenship. The image of two gay soldiers who – like straight soldiers – may even form a happy, healthy couple, striding confidently across the grounds of a U.S. military base, causing no harm but no longer needing to hide, is bound to further retire that myth, to help bring the U.S. military and our society at-large, more fully into the twenty-first century. Two hundred and thirty-three years of having to hide who they are in order to serve ends today.