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Saturday night’s holiday concert by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington began with director Jeff Buhrman saying to roaring applause, “Today was a historic day,” and leading chorus and audience in singing our national anthem. I don’t remember crying during “The Star-Spangled Banner” before.
The repeal of the military gay ban brought many people to mind: not only the nearly 14,000 servicemembers forcibly discharged since 1993, but those like Leonard Matlovich, Perry Watkins and Miriam Ben-Shalom who fought the ban before Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; the organizations that fought it, including Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, Servicemembers United, American Veterans for Equal Rights, the Palm Center, and Log Cabin Republicans; Frank Kameny, who advised and defended servicemembers years before any organized effort; Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), and the House and Senate leadership; and President Barack Obama, who has fulfilled a key promise to gay Americans.
Andrew Sullivan paid respect to Obama’s long game: “Without the Pentagon study, it wouldn’t have passed. Without Obama keeping Lieberman inside the tent, it wouldn’t have passed. Without the critical relationship between [Secretary of Defense] Bob Gates and Obama, it wouldn’t have passed.” No, we are not finished. The president and military leaders must draw up a transition plan. Some say moving quickly will minimize problems. But Saturday’s cloture vote was the breakthrough.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) stormed in and out of the Senate chamber in fury. He accused his colleagues of “acting in direct repudiation of the message of the American people.” Here is a fine example of a politician believing what he wants despite all the evidence to the contrary. “Don’t think that it won’t be at great cost,” he said, echoing the doomsday cries of Marine Corps commandant Gen. James Amos. All one can do about McCain is sigh at the calamity averted by his losing to Obama. As for Amos, he should be summoned to the Oval Office for an exit interview.
The dire words by Family Research Council President Tony Perkins could have been in reaction to President Truman’s racial desegregation of the military in 1948: “Today is a tragic day for our armed forces. The American military exists for only one purpose – to fight and win wars. Yet it has now been hijacked and turned into a tool for imposing on the country a radical social agenda.” Yes, those radical homosexuals, embracing marriage and military service.
Having mentioned Rep. Murphy and Log Cabin Republicans, I must note that LCR also backed Murphy’s successful Republican challenger. That is their right, but it brings their priorities into focus. On Dec. 14, LCR Executive Director R. Clarke Cooper said in response to Murphy’s introduction of the stand-alone repeal bill, “What we don’t know is whether there is sufficient will among the Democratic leadership in the House and Senate to make repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ a priority.” Somehow, after endless Republican obstructionism, Cooper still blamed the Democrats.
On Dec.15, after the House passed the stand-alone bill, Cooper praised the 15 Republicans who voted “yes.” That’s great, but the incoming Republican House majority that Cooper celebrated after the midterm election virtually ensures that all pro-gay federal legislation will be dead for at least two years. Only if you subordinate gay rights to every other issue can you celebrate the electoral victory of a party that remains overwhelmingly anti-gay.
In the end, though, all other considerations pale beside the magnitude of what we as a people have at long last achieved. After the vote Saturday, I made a short pilgrimage to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where I stood with my hand against a cold slab of polished black granite engraved with the names of the war dead and whispered, “We did it.”
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at .