Seeking Courage

In our broken political system, doing the right thing seems ever more unlikely

It’s hard not to feel like our country is broken.

This is a feeling, of course, that’s a bit selfish in its own way because it’s based in large part on my own frustration at how my country deals with issues important to me as a gay man.

As I write this, we’re still awaiting the fate of the ”compromise” amendment that would repeal the legislation that imposed ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” but would not include any nondiscrimination language. Tellingly, the compromise would leave implementation on hold until the Pentagon finishes its review, expected in December.

Supporters argue that political realities require this compromise approach, otherwise there will be no legislative repeal given the expected Democratic losses in Congress come the November midterm elections. Getting the law that created DADT repealed would be a first step, but not the last, to allow open, honest and honorable service by gays and lesbians.

Opponents are angered that the compromise kicked the ball to the Pentagon, where they fear diehard foes of allowing gays to serve will obfuscate and delay in an effort to block repeal through endless study of an issue that has already been studied, prodded and examined for years.

Personally, I support moving forward on the compromise amendment because simply getting the law off the books, even without nondiscrimination language, is a step forward — not a victory to be celebrated, but an accomplishment to be built on. It’s easy to forget that in 1993, DADT was a congressional usurpation of presidential authority that took a bad situation — the military’s rule barring gay and lesbian service — and made it worse by codifying it in the nation’s laws, making dishonesty the rule of the land. Repealing DADT in effect resets the terms of the battle, putting the responsibility back on the executive branch where we’ll find out if President Barack Obama is able to follow through where President Bill Clinton was not.

But those are political arguments we can have — and will have — often in the coming months should the compromise pass. What makes me feel the country is broken is that our democratically elected government is so cowardly and craven when dealing with its LGBT citizens.

CNN confirmed again this week what we’ve known for years now: A supermajority of Americans, up to 80 percent, support allowing openly gay and lesbian soldiers to serve. Even allowing for some government deference to the military, the idea that this issue is even remotely controversial is ludicrous, unless you define ”controversial” as ”opposed by a handful of crazy anti-gay activists.”

Yet, even many of our purported friends hem and haw as if supporting DADT repeal will destroy their political careers. And, thanks to the broken system that exists on Capitol Hill, the supermajority in American opinion doesn’t translate to a supermajority in political will.

From soldiers to street activists, lobbyists to congressmen, people have worked hard to realize the goal of ending DADT’s stain on the nation’s laws. They have highlighted the stories of discrimination at home and success with our allies abroad. They have changed public opinion through diligence and patience. And now we’re at the moment where we discover if our government, both Congress and the president, can find the courage to treat us as equals.

If they can’t find the courage now, it’s unlikely that they ever will.

Sean Bugg is Editor Emeritus for Metro Weekly.

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