President Barack Obama has promised to repeal the US ban on gay military personnel in his first State of the Union address on Wednesday, but leaders in the LGBT community have expressed frustration at his lack of details.
“This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are,” he said.
Obama, under pressure to refocus his domestic policy in the face of falling public approval of his presidency, had been expected to address the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) issue in his speech but many were hoping for more substance.
Obama also commented on hate crimes, noting his administration’s passing of the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in October last year which made it a federal hate crime to assault an individual because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity.
“My Administration has a Civil Rights Division that is once again prosecuting civil rights violations and employment discrimination. We finally strengthened our laws to protect against crimes driven by hate,” said the president.
The Servicemembers Legal Defence Network applauded Obama for his “call to Congress to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ this year”, but urged him to move with urgency on the matter.
“We very much need a sense of urgency to get this done in 2010. We call on the President to repeal the archaic 1993 law in his defense budget currently now being drafted, that is probably the only and best moving bill where DADT can be killed this year,” said the organisation.
Christopher Neff, Deputy Executive Director of the Palm Center commented that “…the path to repeal will require both a command decision by the President and a clear timeline which follows. Leadership from the Pentagon will likely be mixed during upcoming hearings, and votes will be close in the House and Senate”.
According to a new survey there are around 66,000 gay, lesbian and bisexual people serving in the US military, making up around two percent of the country’s military personnel. Under the DADT law they can continue to serve as long as they do not reveal their sexual orientation to their colleagues or superiors.
In response to the president’s pledge, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) – the largest LGBT civil rights organisation in US – announced a new campaign to end DADT. Its “Voices of Honor” campaign will “organise veterans across the country, generate media coverage and build focused campaigns in key states that will be critical to the final votes in the House and Senate”.
“The Commander in Chief sent a clear message tonight that in a time of war, what matters is that our men and women get the job done – not whether they’re gay or straight,” commented HRC President Joe Solmonese.
“Our country simply cannot afford this discriminatory law that hurts military readiness by denying patriotic men and women the opportunity to serve,” said Solmonese. “Ridding our laws of discrimination that weakens our national security will require continued leadership from the President as well as Congressional allies.”