All things cost money, even the implementation of new rules that would repeal the outdated and completely unfair Don't Ask, Don't Tell(DADT) policy that prevents gays and lesbians from servicing openly in the military.
One of the President's jobs is to present a budget to Congress every year. President Obama's budget was submitted this week, and much to the LGBT community's surprise, the costs for the State of the Union promised repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell were not included.
I asked the White House to explain the omission and this is what I was told.
"The President was very clear in the [The State of the Union] that he will work with the Secretary of Defense and military leadership to repeal this policy. This initiative entails a policy change and has very little budgetary impact and that is why it's not represented in the Budget."
That seems simple enough on the surface. OMB Director Peter Orszag made a similar statement to reporters on Sunday, "I don't think there's any direct funding -- there's no direct -- that's not something that would be reflected in the budget because there's not a direct funding implication."
However, there should be costs implementing a repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell.
The Military is all about training. Everyone is trained in every new policy or order handed down. Training costs money, but perhaps not very much money. Most of the training will likely be handed down via PowerPoint presentations and lumped together with other training. Perhaps that explains the "no direct funding" logic.
However there are additional costs to a repeal of Don't Ask Don't tell that would cost significant enough money to show up in the budget, and since those costs are not in this proposed budget it leads me to wonder if there will still be serious inequalities in the ways Gay and Lesbian soldiers are treated in a post DADT military or if anyone seriously believes this Congress has the will to repeal DADT?
Most military heterosexual families have access to a plethora of services and benefits. Basics like health insurance, death benefits, housing and moving costs, are provided to military families.
For example, in the President's proposed budget, there would be a projected decrease in military spending for Housing by hundreds of millions of dollars by 2011. Does that decrease take into account the housing needs of same sex partners and their children? It isn't clear since the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell's costs are not outlined specifically in the budget.
The Department of Defense Budget Proposal Summary (.pdf) says:
The strength of our troops relies on the strength and stability of the families that support them, and the Budget supports these military families as our servicemembers answer our country's call to service. Overall, family support programs grow over 3 percent above the 2010 enacted level.
What's not clear at this point is how the military would define family if there was a repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell. Would legal domestic partners and/or married same sex spouses be included in that definition? Presumably, the Obama Administration would have to use the same excuses it used to deny 9th Circuit Court employees access to same sex family benefits -- DOMA.
Is DOMA the real reason we don't see more detail on the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell in the 2011 budget? Is DOMA the reason Congress is pushing back and lowering expectations about how quickly we will see a repeal? Will the Federal government be prevented from recognizing the families of gay and lesbian soldiers? Will the widow(s) or widower(s) of our lost soldiers be any better post repeal? Or will the costs of the repeal "have very little budgetary impact?" Will our families be left without the benefits they need to support our troops?
I'm not the only one to come to this conclusion. In fact, an anonymous source from the Department of Justice told Reuters, the DOD is planning a year long review of the repeal of DADT and "their review is expected to look at several sensitive issues, including whether the military should extend marriage and bereavement benefits to the partners of gay soldiers."
Judging by Tuesdays's Senate hearing on how to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell, I'm not expecting any miracles from this Congress. I do not think our conservative Democratic majority is willing to take the steps they need to to give our soldiers the equality they deserve. Certainly not before an election where their majority is potentially under threat. Ironically the voters are way ahead of Congress on this issue. Unfortunately the legislative branch, both Democrats and Republicans are bitterly out of touch with the American people on this and most issues.
Despite the leadership shown by the Chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff who testified that he thought allowing gays to serve openly in the military was "the right thing to do," Senator McCain insisted a repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell was a bad idea. Joe Lieberman chimed in with the suggestion that 60 votes would be necessary to pass a repeal.
Will the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell actually happen? Can our Congress catch up with the voting public who has long been on the side of our gay and lesbian soldiers?
I'm not holding my breath because the big issue no one wants to address is staring us all right in the face. The Defense of Marriage Act must be repealed for our military to treat all soldiers equally. Sure, we can baby step our way to equality by first repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell and ignoring DOMA. But if we do, our military -- our country will by hypocritical. We would ask our soldiers to defend "freedom" without actually giving them access to the most fundamental of those freedoms -- to love whom you choose with the legal protections most heterosexual couples enjoy.
If anyone believes this Congress is willing to take that step, they are kidding themselves. With the Senate's tired 60 vote excuse, we know the Senate won't act in any meaningful way any time soon.
Meanwhile we all know Congress does not need 60 votes, they just need a spine and a budget that supports gay and lesbian soldiers and their families.
I have to at least applaud the President for stepping up and advocating for the LGBT community as he promised. He's certainly moving in the direction I hoped he would when I voted for him. He has inspired a national conversation that is long over due. I only hope he has the political power to move our nation's most disappointing majority in history in the right direction, because if he can't move them the people should. We should move each and every one of them right out of Washington, and get some people in there who can actually mover our progressive agenda forward.
UPDATE: I'm told the military may not be bound by DOMA because they operate under their their own set of rules and are not governed by the Justice Department, but that may not preclude the legislative branch for using that excuse as a political out. We should not let them.