Last week, I was glad to see my president and secretary of state both join the masses of people expressing solidarity with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender youth of America, as part of Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” campaign. Beyond the sheer joy derived from watching the president follow in the footsteps of a sex blogger, Obama’s emphasis on tolerance and being true to oneself gave crucial support to the LGBT community. But, like many, I was left wondering—when will this support be actuated? How can Obama simultaneously speak of daily improvement while failing to make necessary moves to ensure recent hard-earned progress toward equality is not undermined?
Indeed, this past week also brought mixed developments in the fate of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Though federal judge Virginia A. Phillips originally rejected the Department of Justice’s request for a stay on her ruling, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted a temporary stay, effectively reviving the policy. It is unclear how the Pentagon will react, particularly as it announced earlier this week that the military will start accepting openly gay recruits. Gay-rights activist Lieutenant Dan Choi has reenlisted in the army as an openly gay man.
This week, Obama’s press secretary emphasized in an interview that DADT will “end under this president,” but that the president believes the responsibility for this lies with Congress. But hopes for a legislative appeal at this point, particularly with the looming midterm elections, look bleak. As it stands, Obama’s words and moves seem contradictory; while he promises to end DADT, his Department of Justice moves for its continuation. Just when a decisive advocate is needed, Obama has displayed passivity.
However, if Obama is as strong an advocate as he claims, he should embrace one of the many paths that exist for facilitating the end of DADT outside of the legislative branch. For an extreme example, he could end the policy the same way former President Harry S. Truman ended segregation in the army—by executive order. This option, though the most direct, could be perceived by many as an abuse of presidential power. He could also prevent the Department of Justice from appealing the law, causing Phillips decision to remain intact. However, merely telling the Department of Justice not to repeal Justice Phillips’ decision is unwise as it will not definitively remove the policy.
The other option—and perhaps the best one—is for Obama to send a clear message to the Court of Appeals, and thus the Supreme Court, that he believes DADT to be unconstitutional. As Walter Dellinger, a former head of legal counsel for the Department of Justice, argued in a New York Times article, this option would likely improve the chances of the Court’s overturning the policy.
Additionally, of all the moves Obama could be making at this crucial pre-election period time, taking action to end DADT is one of the least controversial. A February Washington Post poll found that 75 percent of surveyed Americans supported overturning the measure—a percentage much greater than that which won Obama the presidency. Indeed, in a presidency that has been clouded by a sense of false hope and failed promises, taking a more active role on an issue he claims to feel so strongly about could do Obama some good.
Indeed, what we need now is for Obama to start delivering change we can see, not just believe in. Now is not the time to flip-flop and waver. DADT is an archaic and discriminatory policy that should not be resuscitated. The benefits to be gained by allowing citizens to serve our country equally are tremendous. In a position of such power, it is not enough for Obama to promise things will improve. He must start making things better now.
Ryan M. Rossner ’13, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Winthrop House.