Objection to DADT shouldn't be an excuse to hold hostage critical defense legislation (Sen. Mark Udall)

Like many bills that have been filibustered this Congress, it was stopped by Senators set on preventing any legislation from passing. If we don’t pass the bill this year, it will be the first time in nearly half a century that Congress has not passed defense authorization legislation into law.

My colleagues on the other side of the aisle have given a number of reasons for refusing to allow debate on the NDAA, one of which is their objection to a provision that would repeal the outdated “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law, which forces otherwise-qualified service members out of the military solely because of their sexual orientation.  As a co-sponsor of the bill to repeal the law, I’m disappointed not only in the opposition to repealing the law – I believe “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has weakened our national defense – but also because it has been used as one excuse to sink the overall legislation. 

Contrary to the objections that have been raised, the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” provision in the NDAA respects the Pentagon’s timeline for studying how to repeal the law. It would give military leaders the flexibility to implement repeal in a way that tracks with military standards and guidelines. As Admiral Michael Mullen testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this year, repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is the “right thing to do.” The opponents of the legislation voted down an opportunity to offer and debate the merits of an amendment that would have removed or otherwise altered the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” provision in the NDAA, which leads me to believe they are more interested in obstruction than in engaging in serious debate about our national security policy.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” undermines the strength of our military and the fairness of our great nation, and it’s time to have an open debate on it here in the Senate. At a time when we’re fighting two wars, we need every skilled service member we have – airmen, mechanics, translators, and others. We should not have a policy of dismissing qualified men and women and jeopardizing our national security because some in the military are still set on unfair or intolerant ways.

I’m an eternal optimist, and I believe that we’ll have another chance to consider the National Defense Authorization Act later this year. In the meantime, I’m urging the Administration not to appeal a recently issued federal court decision that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is unconstitutional. Earlier this month, Senator Gillibrand and I sent a letter to the U.S. Attorney General making this request. In the wake of Republican obstruction of the NDAA, a number of our colleagues have joined us in signing the letter.  An appeal of the court decision would hamper Congress’s continued efforts to repeal the outmoded “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law,” a goal that we must reach this year.