Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is oft quoted, paraphrasing the American minister and abolitionist Theodore Parker, saying, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
These words seem ever pertinent as our society continues to struggle with injustices everywhere. A few days ago, the national poverty level was assessed at a shocking 15%. In a painfully slow economic recovery, for many families, the “arc” of the moral universe may seem more akin to a flatline.
But for the gay men and women serving in America’s armed forces, the long wait ended yesterday, September 20, 2011, when the U.S. Military’s 18-year old policy “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT),” was officially repealed. All enlisted Americans now have the right to serve their country in integrity with the respect that they deserve.
Implemented in late 1993, DADT prohibited gay members of the armed forces from serving openly under threat of being discharged. As the policy has been subject to criticism over the years, the argument for maintaining it oft given the most credibility was that DADT promoted the maintenance of “unit cohesion.” In November 2010, however, the Pentagon published a report, based on polls taken among service members, which suggested the repeal would be likely to have at worst a neutral effect on the performance of the military. At this point, the repeal process which Obama had promised in his 2008 campaign, and for which members of Congress had long been pushing, gained serious momentum. Obama signed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act (H.R. 2965)” in December 2010. The Act provided for a comprehensive review of such a repeal, to ensure that the Department of Justice had prepared the necessary policies in order to be “consistent with the standards of military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention of the Armed Forces” (H.R. 2965). When on July 22, 2011 President Obama, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen provided that these provisions had been met, the clock was set for the official repeal to take effect in 60 days’ time. As of yesterday, DADT is no longer military policy. (The repeal comes after more than 13,000 service members have been discharged as a result of the policy, including a disproportionately high percentage of women and minorities. Costs for the military to replace those discharged are estimated at upwards of $300 million.)
The repeal is the latest reflection of changes in the cultural landscape of the United States. Today, six states and the District of Colombia have legalized same sex marriage. More elected officials, professional athletes, celebrities, and other prominent figures are open about their homosexuality than ever before. National campaigns, such as the “It Gets Better Project,” have been launched to foster hope and confidence among harassed gay teens and youth. And perhaps most importantly, polls continue to suggest that the next generation is increasingly supportive of policies which establish equality for members of the LGBT community.
Just as Theodore Parker once labored for the abolition of slavery, and Dr. King for an end to segregation and racism, so too do voters across the country today stand up for justice for gays and lesbians. Yesterday, our country got one step closer. As we look to the future of LGBT rights, all signs point to that great arc of the moral universe continuing to bend toward justice.
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