Today at 12:01 a.m., the military policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which prevented gays and lesbians from serving openly in the United States Armed Forces, ended in its entirety. As of today, the estimated 66,000 gays and lesbians serving in America’s military may now, if they so choose, be open about their sexual orientation, be seen in public with their partners, and (in states where it is legal) get married without fear of losing their jobs. All current investigations into “homosexual conduct” have been ended. Ninety-seven percent of personnel have received whatever training it was that the military deemed necessary to phase out the policy with minimal disruption. It’s pretty fantastic that now anyone who wishes to serve in the armed forces may now do so, regardless of sexual orientation.
DADT has been an expensive policy to enforce, both in dollars and in combat readiness. Since its implementation in 1994, DADT has officially resulted in over 13,000 discharges at a cost of over $400 million in recruiting, training (of both the discharged service members and their replacements), and separation travel. According to data obtained from the Department of Defense, between 1998 and 2003, 49 nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare specialists, 90 nuclear power engineers, 52 missile guidance and control operators, 150 artillery specialists, and 340 infantrymen were discharged under DADT. Additionally, since 1994, over 70 translators who speak either Arabic or Farsi (two of the primary languages spoken in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan) have been discharged for being gay.
So at least all that’s over. There is some concern that following the end of DADT, the number of discharges for “unprofessional conduct” will increase as a way to continue to investigate and discharge gay service members, but it’s entirely possible that the one known case so far that has raised this concern may have been treated the same way had the service members involved been of opposite genders. I don’t know enough about it or if there are enough other similar instances since the suspension of opening new DADT investigations to really make an educated remark on it one way or another. But it is something to keep an eye on.
Despite the end of DADT, however, some military families are still more equal than others. Because of the Defense of Marriage Act, legal partners and spouses of gay service members still cannot receive the same benefits as spouses of straight service members. While all service members may designate anyone they wish as a life insurance beneficiary or as a caregiver in the Wounded Warrior program, benefits such as access to military health insurance and access to family readiness and support groups is still restricted to only opposite-sex spouses, as DOMA prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex unions, even if they are legal in the state where they were performed. Many other privileges afforded to married heterosexual service members would also likely be unavailable to married homosexual service members, such as inclusion in family size calculations for housing and relocation allowances.
As more gay members of the military come out, get married (or civil unioned), and start families, I can’t see how legislators will be able to justify the continued denial of full benefits to same-sex military families. As the conflict between DOMA and military family support eventually comes to light, the political pressure will likely be too great to continue its imposition on military families. As it stands, the State Department has already afforded spousal privileges to same-sex partners of American diplomats (which are about the same as those that are afforded to military spouses), which is technically in violation of DOMA, and the fabric of our society still seems pretty intact, and the effectiveness of our diplomatic corps does not appear to have been negatively impacted.
So as pressure to afford full spousal and family benefits to same-sex partners of members of our military mounts, the already-mounting effort to repeal DOMA will likely reach critical mass. There’s nothing like a good “support our troops” effort to really light a fire under the butts of politicians. While it may still take another several years of carving out an exception in DOMA for the military, realizing that having separate systems is too costly and revisiting the issue a half-dozen times before someone finally brings the issue before the Supreme Court, the biggest eventual outcome of the end of DADT will be the repeal of DOMA. It might not exactly work out the way I think it will (I think way too logically to effectively predict the process of politics, but I’m pretty good at nailing the outcomes), but mark it down–it will happen, military spousal and family privileges will have something to do with it, and you (probably) heard it here first.