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May 12th, 2009
01:30 PM ET

It's time for Democrats to come out of the closet about gays in the military

Program Note: Tune in tonight to hear more on the issue when Anderson speaks to Lt. Dan Choi, Army National Guard, who was discharged for being gay. AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.

Robert Zimmerman
AC360° Contributor and CNN Political Analyst

In the contentious battle for the Democratic nomination for president, one of the few issues that united the candidates and the party was a commitment to end the policy toward gays and lesbians in military service referred to as "don't ask, don't tell." This is the policy that requires our servicemen and women to either lie about or hide their sexual orientation in order to maintain their status in military service.

It is hard to imagine that 16 years ago this policy was regarded as an innovative approach to block the harassment and dismissal of gay and lesbian members of our armed services. Though a source of bitter controversy at that time, it was considered to be a step forward. However, it has clearly not accomplished its intended purpose and must end. President Barack Obama made that clear during the 2008 campaign and in his first 100 days in office. He has also been joined by Generals Colin Powell, John Shalikashvili, Iraqi war heroes such as Congressman Patrick Murphy and many others who have served our nation in support of that position.

So what is keeping the Democrats in the closet on this issue while brave gay men and women in the military are being fired for either being forced out of the closet or coming out on their own? Sure the Obama Administration is busy with a very full agenda. That comes with the job. The Truman Administration brought World War II to a victorious conclusion, rebuilt Western Europe under the Marshall Plan and also took the bold and controversial steps to integrate the military during a historically challenging time in our nation's history. The Johnson Administration signed into law landmark civil rights legislation during a very contentious and divisive time for our country.

President Obama enjoys the wide spread confidence and support of a great majority of our fellow citizens. He has used that support for a series of bold and innovative programs to address the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression and two wars. Repealing "don't ask, don't tell" is not a distraction from the Obama Administration's agenda. It is an important step in making our nation more secure. Our military leadership has consistently testified before Congress that our armed forces are being stretched close to the breaking point. This policy has reportedly cost our nation 12,500 courageous men and women at a time when we need them the most. We have also lost Arab translators in the military because of our government's policy on sexual orientation at a time when we have very few translators and more are desperately needed.

It is imperative for Congress to act on repealing this policy. However, President Obama does not have to wait. He could issue an executive order to review this policy and order the military to stop investigating and prosecuting soldiers during this review. Ultimately, Congress has the responsibility to take action, but the executive order would be a critical step in moving this process forward and protecting our men and women in the service.

This is an issue that speaks to the moral principles and values that define our country. Our nation has evolved in the 16 years since "don't ask, don't tell" was implemented, especially after September 11, 2001. The question remains whether those in the Democratic Party's leadership positions who are hesitant to act will realize that Al Qaeda is the threat to our national security not the gay and lesbian men and women who have the courage to fight them.

Editor’s Note: Robert Zimmerman has been a Democratic National Committee member since 2000. He is a partner at Zimmerman/Edelson Inc., a marketing, advertising and public relations firm based in New York.

soundoff (42 Responses)
  1. JIM CARROLL INTERNET FREE PRESS

    Yes, it is time to end the nonsense.

    May 12, 2009 at 8:34 pm |
  2. Jim

    It is Time For America to REPENT. God Calls Homosexuality an "Abomination" He Also Said " other things are Wrong & there are Consequences if you break His Laws. You Want to Make God this Nations Enemy? Keep calling what he calls evil good & what he calls good evil, Even God can be pushed to the point of No Return. It was written by the Prophets 2000 years ago of the Moral decay of the people of this earth- What will it take to open your eyes? A one world ruler that will make Hitler look like a saint? Look at the Supreme Court Building- The 10 Commandments were placed there by our Forefathers for a REASON. There is a Reason why for most of our Nations History Reprobates were not to serve- Go do your homework & find out why.

    May 12, 2009 at 7:57 pm |
  3. Dean

    I was in the Marine Corps for 9.5 years during and after Vietnam. I don't know if there were any gays or lesbians in uniform and didn't care as long as no one grabbed me in the shower. It has always been a mistake to even ask the question during the first physical. There were a few when I took my physical who didn't want to be drafted, so they put on the "I'm gay" show so they would not be inducted. I say it is discrimination to deny entry into military service because of sexual orientation.

    May 12, 2009 at 7:51 pm |
  4. Darin

    SLM: Being Gay or straight should not continually be a topic of conversation. I certainly don’t go around announcing that I am straight and have no understanding why those who are Gay feel the need to have parades and announce their sexual orientation.

    This statement screams homophobia and wants to further supress LGBTQQI community. Heterosexuality is thrown in everyones face today and for all of American History as the norm; in television, movies, commercials, schools, music videos, and yes in the ideal American Military family. For the Gay community to take pride in who they are is exactly what their heteosexual counterparts do daily.

    President Obama needs to utilize his power to aid those in the military that fight with all their heart and soul for the Country they love, Can our Country show them some love too? I mean forcing somebody to hide in their own skin is virtually sentencing them to life in prison with no chance of parole. With the number of PTSD rising from the the many tours of military troops coming home from Iraq, this issue of Dont Ask Dont Tell isnt just a political/moral issue or even a civil rights issue, it is a health issue to those who carry the weight and depression around when they daily deny who they are to fight for a Country who isnt fighting for them.

    May 12, 2009 at 6:52 pm |
  5. Annie Kate

    Why is it so important for everyone else to know someone is gay or not? I don't make decisions about people based on their sexual preferences. Just as people don't care whether I am heterosexual or not I don't care what they are either. Its not my business and I'm not going to ask them and I certainly don't want to be told.

    May 12, 2009 at 6:31 pm |
  6. mary Frost

    I realize that President Obama has a lot on his plate, but how long does it take a reporter to ask him where he stands on this issue, instead of what has been his most enchanting moment since he's been in W.H. He does not ask questions of any reporters' that might ask the tough questions.

    May 12, 2009 at 6:08 pm |
  7. mary Frost

    I am waiting for President Obama to take a stand on gays in the military–Can someone that has access to him please ask him
    where he stands on this. Of course, I am betting that he'll make a case for both sides, and we'll be confused than ever.

    May 12, 2009 at 6:05 pm |
  8. Tammy, Berwick, LA

    It's time for America to come out of the closet and accept everyone for who and what they are and not what they'd like for them to be. What does a person's sexuality have to do with performance as a solider? What does it have to do with anything except making that person who he or she was created to be? The homophobes of the world need to get a grip. It really is that simple.

    May 12, 2009 at 5:29 pm |
  9. Steve

    President Obama should ask Colin Powell (who, along with Sam Nunn, torpedoed President Clinton's Executive Order allowing soldiers who are gay to keep serving) to head a commission about the issue. Both men have agreed that the country is in a different place on the issue time. The bottom line is that it's not an issue at all.

    May 12, 2009 at 5:08 pm |
  10. Christina

    Kim, you miss the point. No one is shoving anything down anyone's throat. A goodbye hug on a jetty as sailors leave for assignment. A loving embrace and kiss at an airport or armory as soldier's return from a tour. These are things straight members can do with their partners but gays and lesbian members can NOT do with their partners. And if you don't agree to "hide" it you ARE stopped from serving. Yes, it's irrelevant, it should be irrelevant but only once we allow everyone these courtesies to be who they are and express themselves without recrimination. No more pretending with buddies about your sexual/romantic interests. And yes straight peoples bring up the topic all the time!

    BTW I am straight, age 50, married 30 years.

    May 12, 2009 at 5:07 pm |
  11. Dwight

    Why so fast to support equality for only a small minority? If were honest about the equality thing the solution is to forget male/ female differences as well. They don't need separate restrooms, either (Same reasoning) they don't need separate sleeping arrangements (Same reasoning) Do you realize how much could be saved by only making 1 facility for all instead of seperate. Lets quit with special rights and privileges for only the "SPECIAL" and truly make everyone equal. Anything less is just as bigoted as not allowing Gays to be Gay.

    May 12, 2009 at 5:03 pm |
  12. Terry, TX

    "Robert Zimmerman has been a Democratic National Committee member since 2000." Well Zimmerman I am a heterosexual and not a Democrat. I guess we need to start shoving our sexuality down your throats. What is with CNN ....the only two topics you have are homosexuals and the republicans are fighting amongst each other.
    Look at AC360 homepage.

    May 12, 2009 at 4:34 pm |
  13. Christopher Bingham

    America has the unbridled delusional arrogance to think itself "free" when half the country is only too happy to ruin people over who and how they love.

    We're not the only country – Britain convicted Alan Turing, the man who broke Hitler's enigma code (and may have done more than any single human in the world to defeat him) of "homosexual indecency" in the 50s, partially to "live up" to American security standards.

    If we're ready to throw away our Alan Turnings, not only WILL we lose the war, we will DESERVE the loss.

    Reinstate Lt Cho.

    May 12, 2009 at 3:38 pm |
  14. Kim

    I dont see anyone stopping anyone from serving in the military. There are gays & straights in the military now so Whats the problem?Whether Gay or Straight, Just serve your country proudly and Shut Up. I dont see what Sexual Orientation has to do with anything.
    I DONT shove my Straightness down your Throat so Keep your gayness to yourself. Its irrelevant.

    May 12, 2009 at 3:00 pm |
  15. Emily

    Doesn't it bother anyone that: 1) The military is the only employer still disciminating based on gender, and 2) our first black president has been silent to this discrimination and allowing valuable patriots to be fired? As the article mentions, many presidents have not only juggled just as many tough situations, but also have stepped up to lead and make unpopular decisions with their cabinets(and sometimes the public) because it was the "right thing to do." Mr. Obama – please lead.

    May 12, 2009 at 2:57 pm |
  16. Kathy

    I'm just amazed that this sort of mentality still exists – particularly at a time when we are at war in Iraq and Afghanistan; Pakistan is on the brink of war as well; we're in the midst of a powerful recession – and on and on - and some jack*** thinks that it's more important NOT to have gays in the military than it is to retain well-trained, patriotic and devoted individuals who have shown their willingness to fight for our country and lead others. It just makes me sick that these people are in positions of power in the military or anywhere. Where on earth are their priorities? This is something right out of the late 50's or early 60's, before civil rights legislation was passed or enforced. For shame!!!

    May 12, 2009 at 1:42 pm |
  17. seana

    I dont understand why it matters if someone is gay? You would think that it wouldnt matter who wants to sever their country. It is a bold thing to serve our country, it shouldnt matter. They should be proud.

    May 12, 2009 at 1:25 pm |
  18. Mari

    Yes, its time to get rid of the silly "don't ask, don't tell"! President Obama did respond to a female soldier who was being discharged for saying that she is a lesbian, and told her that he does plan on tackling this issue.

    Sadly, there is still SO many haters in our Nation. When will it be safe, to be 'different' in America? One is regularly demonized for being........ gay....... or Mexican..... or Muslim.....or an atheist!

    When will our Christian Nation really behave as Christians?

    May 12, 2009 at 1:25 pm |
  19. Wayne

    Further to the argument, Congress isn't so busy that they can't get started on the repeal of the law. Perhaps if every gay/lesbian soldier walked up to his/her CO and said they were gay, the giant exodus would decrease the congressional hesitancy.

    I am tired of listening to the whine about the affect on unit cohesion. It was the same lie about integration. The wonderful thing about the military is the chain of command. Sit down! Shut your trap! Do your job! That's an order! Done.

    That was easy. Next?

    May 12, 2009 at 12:35 pm |
  20. Heidi Ann Berg

    Yes it is time to come out of the closet

    May 12, 2009 at 12:34 pm |
  21. Krasi

    Wow, I just read the letter from Lt. Daniel Choi and cannot wait to see the interview on AC360 tonight. Even though I don't think personal beliefs need to be announced to the whole world, when those around you know who you are, you shouldn't be punished for being yourself.

    May 12, 2009 at 12:34 pm |
  22. Krasi

    I thought that personal questions regarding issues such as sexual orientation are irrelevant when applying for a job. I am not sure if it is different in the military, but I don't see why soldiers' sexual orientation needs to be announced to everybody. Firing them for being of a certain orientation, though, is just outragous.

    May 12, 2009 at 12:28 pm |
  23. Laura

    yes! Since President Obama took office, the nation has seen a marked shift in attitude towards gay and lesbian men and women. Our troops need that support more than anyone. It's time for the federal government to get on board.

    May 12, 2009 at 12:14 pm |
  24. Dave, CO

    I'm so glad AC360 will have Lt. Dan Choi on! He is a truly courageous and skilled individual– exactly the kind we need in our armed forces and in representation of our country. You couldn't ask for a more stand-up guy.

    May 12, 2009 at 12:07 pm |
  25. AnnieH

    I completely agree. Although Obama has more than enough on his plate at this time, this particular issue could be dealt with relatively quickly. In also works in tandem with shoring up military operations and expediting our exit.

    May 12, 2009 at 12:07 pm |
  26. Chris

    Great article. I agree completely. It is time that we put national security and human rights above this homophobic policy. Patriotism is not limited by sexual orientation and we need to have a military policy that reflects that.

    May 12, 2009 at 12:02 pm |
  27. MRB 11101

    It's preposterous that this is still federal policy. In a generation (or hopefully even sooner) we will look back and be appalled at the federally-sanctioned discrimination we practiced. Gay marriage too! It's time for the federal govt to get with the program.

    May 12, 2009 at 12:02 pm |
  28. franfrank

    Time for the democrats to stand up and do the right thing; allow gays and lesbians to be out of the closet in the military. These military people are risking their life for the rest of us, the sex of their significant other should not matter.

    May 12, 2009 at 11:34 am |
  29. Cameron

    Let's face it...homosexuals have been in the ranks of the US military from the begining. Soldiers should be commended and diciplined, promoted and discharged based on perfomance and conduct, not based on sexual orientation. Let's institute poilicy along those lines. Oh, but the instant we give the policy a name, someone will challenge it.

    By-the-way...Is one required to be a democrat or a homosexual to stand up for common sense? I am heterosexual and I am not a democrat.

    May 12, 2009 at 11:30 am |
  30. Lauren

    It's hard to believe that this is STILL such a big issue. I agree with Mr. Zimmerman that the people who are fighting everyday shoudn't be scrutinized over their sexual orientation. Every courageous person that signed up to help our country should be able to, especially if we are in such desperate need for it. Thank you Mr. Zimmerman for all of your great articles and excellent job on TV – keep it coming!

    May 12, 2009 at 11:23 am |
  31. ARTBUFF

    I think the policy works best. Otherwise it would cause conflict between gays and those that are anti-gay.

    May 12, 2009 at 11:15 am |
  32. sherman

    Now is the time for the Democrats to change the rules and allow gays and lesbians in the military to be the best they can be...honest and truthful not forced to live a lie so others can live in a delusion.

    May 12, 2009 at 11:14 am |
  33. chester

    I agree with Zimmerman that the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the military has not achieved its goal and that government should revisit this issue.

    May 12, 2009 at 11:13 am |
  34. richmond pam

    Don't ask, don't tell was innovative at the tim. Time marches on and now it's time to move ahead and allow gays and lesbians to serve and not hide their personal life. Think about the troops risking their lives and not being able to share stories from home with their fellow troops. Isn't that just too much to ask from anyone?As always, Zimmerman is right on target!

    May 12, 2009 at 11:12 am |
  35. Justin T

    Well said, and I agree.

    May 12, 2009 at 11:08 am |
  36. Melissa

    Whatever happened to patience? Yes, it needs to end. Did you notice how fast he's moving in getting things done? One thing at a time. He has enough on his plate to last multiple men many lifetimes.

    Its time Americans learned patience again.

    May 12, 2009 at 11:04 am |
  37. Sarah

    Yes, it's about time to come out of the closet on this issue!

    May 12, 2009 at 11:01 am |
  38. kristin

    It's 2009 people get with it, and stop being so boxed in on the issue. Equality for all doesn't matter the kind. This subject needs to go away!
    If you want to serve you Country it's your God given right! See the big picture in this, and the rights for all. I don't personally care if you are or not. Just serve because in history there's always going to be someone that's not like you. Peace........ 🙂

    May 12, 2009 at 10:58 am |
  39. Nefira Mada

    It is sad to me. That in this day and age that we fight our own citizens rights away. This Gays in the Military thing should have never been a problem. As long as they Perform their duties to the best of their abiity, and serve above and beyond in wartime, what should it matter what they do behind closed doors?
    Personally I don't really care who does what at home. That's a private thing, and should remain so. Noone should have the right to bar people based on private acts. Nearly a Millenia ago in the ancient Greco-Roman world, noone thought anything of it, in fact there was some over abundance of the "gay life" well, to me it's just Humans being Human. Nature overrides all. We can't help whom we are attracted to.
    Just because one may like Men, or women, or both or what have you, does not mean it can hinder them from performing thier job, or task properly. This is something that should never have made it into any form of law to begin with. We don't have the right to make those kinds of decisions for other people.
    I hope we make some progress on this front in this Administration.

    May 12, 2009 at 10:50 am |
  40. Greg Schulz

    I totally agree with repealing the old policy. Gays and lesbians are just as courageous as men and women who are straight. Who is it to tell a gay person they aren't moral, we all have our own morals.

    May 12, 2009 at 10:49 am |
  41. Cindy

    Obama has said many things during his election campaign that he has went back on so why should this gay thing be any different?

    Cindy...Ga.

    May 12, 2009 at 10:40 am |
  42. SLM

    Being Gay or straight should not continually be a topic of conversation. I certainly don't go around announcing that I am straight and have no understanding why those who are Gay feel the need to have parades and announce their sexual orientation. Trying to convince themselves that it is perfectly natural?? Live your life, it isn't anybody's business.

    May 12, 2009 at 10:19 am |