UF Law professor, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network attorneys discuss DADT
The Congressional Budget Office reports that the U.S. Army spent $216 million in 2005, mostly trying to convince young people to serve. Yet, a group of Americans, qualified in every other way, find that they are not welcome in the military. Homosexuals must conceal their sexual orientation or risk discharge, thanks to the law known as ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ or DADT.
On Tuesday, Oct. 26, the American Constitution Society and OutLaw teamed up to teach students more about the law, how it operates, and the effect that it has on the military and on individuals. Speaking at the event were Aaron Tax and David McKean, attorneys with the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which strives to eliminate ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ Joining them was UF Law Professor Diane Mazur, an expert on military law, whose scholarship includes the new book “A More Perfect Military: How the Constitution Can Make Our Military Stronger.”
McKean spoke first, and among the things he explained was what, exactly, homosexual conduct is judged to mean. Currently, there are three categories.
“One of those,” he said, “is a statement to anyone, anytime, anywhere, in your life that you are gay, or words to that effect.”
The second, McKean said, is acts. However, this may not mean what one thinks it would. McKean explained that this is often interpreted broadly and can include things like handholding. The third category is marriage, a civil union, or something similar.
Tax spoke of some recent legal challenges to the law, some of which had been handled by the Legal Defense Network. He told the story of one individual, a former Air Force captain named Monica Hill. Hill is a physician who had had her medical education paid for by the military in return for her service. She was told by the Air Force that she was being assigned to Andrews Air Force Base. Unfortunately, Hill’s partner of 14 years was then diagnosed with terminal cancer. Hill divulged her sexual preference in asking for a deferment for her assignment, and was soon discharged.
“Not only that,” Tax said, “but because her statement was considered voluntary, they came after her for the entire cost of her medical school education.”
Mazur spoke to the reason why DADT is even still around in the first place, using an analogy to a kid’s game.
“Do you remember the kids’ game hot potato?” Mazur asked, rhetorically. “The idea was that you tossed the ball to the next kid as fast as you possibly could, because whoever it is that’s holding the ball is the loser. Unfortunately, this is how the government plays the political game involving ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.'”
She explained that there is considerable support from Congress, the military, and the executive branch to end DADT, but that no one wants to take responsibility for actually ending it. For example, President Barack Obama has asked the military to examine how it would make changes, and asked Congress to think about how DADT would be repealed or replaced. Unfortunately, each party seems to do their best to punt the problem.
The speakers then opened the floor to questions from students. One student asked what steps would be taken to protect gay soldiers from abuse or harassment once they were allowed the serve openly. Tax said that it is their understanding that soldiers would probably fall under the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws that protect civilian workers. He also added that this issue deals with what he sees as a common misconception.
“I think there’s a misconception,” Tax said, “that, on day one, everyone is going to come running out of the closet, or that they are going to be required to come out.”