We must dismantle 'Don't ask, don't tell'

We are just hours away from historic House and Senate votes on the repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” the discriminatory law that has denied more than 14,000 Americans – and countless others barred or discouraged from enlisting – the ability to serve openly and honestly in our military, hurting our readiness and national security.

Monday’s announcement of a repeal compromise was a step forward crafted by the president, Department of Defense officials, and repeal leaders on Capitol Hill. It allows for legislative votes to be held now and respects the ongoing work by the Pentagon on how to implement open service for lesbian and gay service members. Nothing would happen until the Pentagon Working Group completes its report and the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the President certifies repeal.

Advocates have been working for some time to include repeal as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act – generally understood as “must-pass” legislation. The defense spending bill represents the best legislative vehicle to bring repeal to the president’s desk this year.  It also was the same vehicle used to pass DADT in 1993.

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If enacted, this welcomed compromise will create a process for the president and the Pentagon to implement a new policy of non-discrimination for lesbian and gay service members. It would allow the estimated 66,000 lesbian and gay active-duty to serve our country openly and with integrity. This also builds upon the support Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, expressed for open service during the February hearing in the Senate.

Anyone who doubts that Adm. Mullen wants to get repeal done right need only read his remarkable testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee: “I am troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are. ... It comes down to integrity — theirs as individuals and ours as an institution.”

In his State of the Union message President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaObama marks MLK Day by honoring King for his 'poetic brilliance' and 'moral clarity' Biden breaks away from 2020 pack in South Carolina National Archives says it altered Trump signs, other messages in Women's March photo MORE said repealing "Don't ask, don't tell" was the right thing to do. Service members around the world took the president at his word; we do, too.

All studies of successful transitions to open service, from the 1993 RAND study to the Palm Center studies of other countries with open service begins with strong leadership from within. We expect in this compromise that the president – working with our allies – will make a strong case for a winning vote.

We would not be at this point without the commitment and leadership of Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Carl LevinCarl Milton LevinThe Trumpification of the federal courts Global health is the last bastion of bipartisan foreign policy Can the United States Senate rise to the occasion? Probably not MORE (D-Mich.), and Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.); who have each been working tirelessly to muster the votes needed to include repeal as an amendment to the defense bill.

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At SLDN, we continue to see the causalities of DADT almost every day. Since 1993, we have assisted more than 10,000 LGBT service members with information and free legal services. Our hotline receives multiple calls a day from people serving all over the world. And the discharges haven't stopped.

Along with our repeal allies, we are taking important steps to dismantling the 17-year-old law that has mandated the discharge of so many qualified service members. Advocates and allies need to keep pushing in the next 24 to 48 hours. The vote will be very close in the Senate Armed Services Committee and on the House floor. It is critical that all proponents for full repeal weigh in now.

Aubrey Sarvis, an Army veteran, is the executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.