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.
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.
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
Questions or comments? Send an email
Want to know more? Go behind the scenes with