The Senate today failed to kill off the Clinton-era “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy that requires the discharge of gay service members. Last month’s decision in the Proposition 8 case in California seemed to establish conclusively that there is no rational evidence that same sex marriage harms anyone. I had hoped that this vote on DODT would piggyback on the momentum built by the California case and other recent court decisions that have struck down roadblocks based on nothing more than some people’s vague “discomfort” with the concept of gay individuals having equal rights in society but that was not the case. Nevertheless, I see this outcome not as a loss but as just another delay of the inevitable – that being the realization of full rights and privileges for all citizens regardless of sexual orientation.
While driving home from work tonight I tuned to 980 WCAP and heard a replay of this morning’s interview by Ted Panos of UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan. Besides talking about all that’s going on at the University, Meehan commented on today’s vote, one that he seemed to expect to kill DODT. He said that the very first bill he filed in Congress back in 1993 was an attempt to overturn Don’t Ask which had only recently been enacted, and that he spent his entire career in Congress working towards it’s demise. Meehan said that the country has now accepted the concept of gay service members but that politicians always lag behind such changes in public opinion. Ted Panos concurred in Marty’s assessment of the country’s acceptance, adding “in twenty years everyone will laugh about the foolishness of this policy.”
From the context of Ted’s comments and his earlier discussion on the same issue, he seemed to mean that any laughter would be motivated by discomfort and not by amusement. To me, in the not too distant future, our dalliances with Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and bans on same sex marriage will be sources of embarrassment. Like racial segregation, ethnic and religious bigotry, and the treatment of women as second class citizens, historians will judge our past and ongoing discrimination against gay Americans to be another regrettable chapter of our nation’s history.