“Don’t ask” repeal offers hope for greater equality

rainbow flagRousing hymns, stirring prayers, a candlelight procession and blissful smiles filled one of the most beautiful weddings I’ve ever attended. Happiness permeated the recent ceremony in Oakland  for my wife’s cousin Rebecca and her wife-to-be Joann even before the minister drew our attention to another source of joy.

“Congress has voted to repeal the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ law banning gays from serving openly in the military,” she proudly declared.

And the crowd went wild.

Originally intended as a compromise to permit gays and lesbians to serve without harassment in our armed forces, “don’t ask, don’t tell” became a curse to both homosexuals and the military. Under the 1993 law, the Pentagon expelled more than 14,000 service members regardless of their records and qualifications.

Repealing the discriminatory measure proved a Herculean task for President Obama and supporters in Congress, who required months and unyielding effort to overcome opposition led by Sen. John McCain.

“This law will strengthen our national security and uphold the ideals that our fighting men and women risk their lives to defend,” said the president. “No longer will tens of thousands of Americans in uniform be asked to live a lie or look over their shoulder in order to serve the country they love.”

Like the wedding attendees, all Americans should rejoice and take pride in our country maturing past such repulsive and destructive prejudice.

“And yet,” the minister added, “what does it say of our nation that we look past sexual orientation in matters of war, but not for bonds of love?”

That drew another assent from the audience. Until that moment, I suspected but didn’t know that the people assembled in the chapel and I were aligned in our thinking. We were happy to witness a blessed union of two people joining in matrimony before their families, friends and God. Yet while those of us assembled recognized their marriage, we regretted that our state and federal governments would not, only because both of the spouses are women.

“But let us not dwell on that now,” said the minister.  Together, we turned our minds to happier thoughts.

Here’s one: the demise of “don’t ask, don’t tell” does more than remove discrimination from the armed forces. The repeal boosts hope for other advances to come. The military’s homosexual ban dates back to 1950 and long appeared impossible to reverse. Its final defeat proves that supporters of equality can win victories that once seemed unachievable even if they take years or decades.

Overcoming gay marriage bans like California’s Prop. 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act will require tireless efforts. But we’ll get there, no matter how long it takes. Millions of Americans, like newlyweds Rebecca and Joann, deserve no less.

Patch, 2010