Much has been made of Congress’ decision this weekend to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), but little focus has been devoted to the decision’s glaring lack of substance. Regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with the decision, it should be disconcerting to all that the associated social/political questions are to be answered by the unelected bureaucrats of the Department of Defense.
The brevity of the bill was simultaneously refreshing and disconcerting—refreshing because of the absence of riders and amendments unrelated to the topic at hand, yet disconcerting in Congress’ refusal to address core issues clearly falling within its realm of responsibility. The bill’s two pages state simply that (1) the Secretary of Defense has ordered a comprehensive review of how his department will implement such a repeal, (2) the President, SECDEF, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff must review and forward said implementation plan to the appropriate congressional committees, and (3) repeal will only occur after the aforementioned requirements have been met. A lone clause mandates that repeal not conflict with the definitions of “marriage” and/or “spouse” currently found in the U.S. Code.
Left unanswered in this landmark piece of legislation are the critical questions having ramifications well beyond the realms of the Pentagon and those in uniform. For example, is cohabitation by two homosexual servicemembers not only to be socially accepted within the military, but also to be supported by the military services' housing policies? If so, how will such support provide equity with unmarried, opposite sex servicemembers who are not allowed to cohabitate? What about the question of civil unions? Are the services required to recognize such legal relationships and confer benefits (e.g. medical, insurance, and other privileges) accordingly?
More important than these individual questions, however, is the issue of decision-making. Many of these questions are deeply divisive, as has been demonstrated not only since DADT’s implementation during the Clinton Administration, but during recent state referendums and judicial decisions regarding same-sex marriage. Given such divisiveness and the fact that DADT’s repeal implementation will inevitably be looked to as federal precedent for other matters regarding the acceptance of homosexuality, what body should be making such decisions? What should be the process? Should U.S. citizens be satisfied with Congress rubber-stamping the findings of the Defense Department’s unelected (and, arguably, inexpert) bureaucrats, or should we demand that our elected officials debate and decide openly the critical issues at hand—and be held accountable for the same?