A Time to Lead

Six years ago, when I was Executive Director of the Log Cabin Republicans, I made the unpopular decision to sue the United States Military and George Bush's Department of Defense over the failed Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy.
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Six years ago I made the unpopular decision to sue the United States Military and George Bush's Department of Defense over the failed Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) policy. As the Executive Director of Log Cabin Republicans (LCR) at the time, I wasn't making any friends in GOP circles or with liberals who felt they should lead on this matter. That year, Republicans controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress, and there was zero chance for legislative repeal of the ban. Progress could only be made in the courts. So LCR took the lead, represented by the global law firm White & Case, in filing Log Cabin Republicans v. the United States of America.

A few things have changed since filing the case in 2004. George Bush is no longer president. Colin Powell, once a leading opponent, now supports gays and lesbians serving openly in our military. Democrats, not Republicans, control both chambers of Congress. And, after 20 years as a registered Republican, I've joined a growing number of Americans who now identify as independent -- supporting candidates of either party who put our country and good public policy ahead of politics and partisan gridlock.

One thing has not changed. Our country's bravest gay and lesbian Americans -- symbolized by lead plaintiff Alexander Nicholson -- who wake up each day making the ultimate sacrifice to defend freedom are still required to lie about their basic identity in order to serve. I was at the White House on June 29, 2009 when President Obama repeated his campaign promise to end DADT under his watch. He deserves great credit for that commitment. But, our commander-in-chief has yet to provide the bold leadership required to end the policy. In fact, his own Justice Department continues to appeal the ruling that would have halted dismissal of America's military heroes.

President Obama needs to lead. Actions speak louder than words.

The President needs to end the disturbing level of confusion about the policy's status and future. He can immediately end discharges. He can personally lobby Senators. And, he can take respected former Solicitor General Ted Olson's advice and instruct the Justice Department to stop appealing the federal judge's decision. The majority of the American people are on his side. A bipartisan majority of the United States House of Representatives has voted for repeal. A bipartisan majority of the United States Senate is ready to vote for repeal in an up or down vote. The President's own Joint Chiefs Chairman Michael Mullen has testified before Congress for repeal. And, a highly respected federal judge, after listening to the evidence at trial, has ruled that DADT violates the United States Constitution.

The lawsuit we filed in 2004 never should have been necessary. When the case was filed, Attorney Marty Meekins who helped inspire the lawsuit said, "this case is fundamentally about correcting a misguided government policy based on prejudice towards gay and lesbian Americans. A decade of experience with the policy demonstrates that it actually weakens our national defense." Meekins' statements still hold true. At a time when our nation is fighting a global war against terrorism our elected officials have allowed a discriminatory policy to cause the discharge of more than ten thousand loyal, highly trained and capable military personnel. The experience of our allies in the war on terror, including Great Britain, Israel, and Australia, proves that many of the most successful and most modernized militaries already include gays and lesbians who serve openly.

Despite the intense criticism from the far left and far right, and for all my doubts leading up to the filing of the lawsuit, I never regretted that decision after reading the letters of support that poured in afterward. One said, "I am a soldier in the US Army, and I love to serve my country. I would also like to live my life as the person I am, not the person I pretend to be." The soldier ended his letter saying "it will take a lot of time for anything to happen, but I hope and pray that it does. Thank you for your support of us, who cannot use our own voices."

Mr. President and members of Congress from both political parties, your attention to this matter is long overdue. Now is the time to give voice to these brave soldiers.

Patrick Guerriero, former Massachusetts State Representative and Mayor of Melrose, is Executive Director of the Gill Action Fund, a bipartisan political advocacy group with offices in Washington, DC and Denver, Colorado.

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