As part of Diversity Week, the Delaware campus Student Bar Association
sponsored a Panel Discussion on Tuesday, February 22nd that focused on the don’t ask, don’t tell (DADT) policy of the United States Military that is pending repeal based on a bill signed into law by President Obama on December 22, 2010. The panel featured Professor Emeritus Thomas J. Reed
, Professor John G. Culhane
, and Associate Professor Justin G. Holbrook
Professor Reed spoke first, discussing the “deep, historical background” of DADT with a specific focus on military culture. He noted that while there was a British Royal Navy prescription against “buggering,” that the United States military had no unified and codified prohibitions against homosexual behavior until the 20th century. “From World War I onward, a person of gay or lesbian orientation had to conceal that if they wanted to pursue a military career,” said Professor Reed, noting that some 11,000 U.S. soldiers were dismissed for homosexual conduct during the Second World War.
Professor Culhane spoke from a social perspective, with a particular focus on repeal of DADT, saying, “There has been a quick shift in the way people talk about don’t ask, don’t tell. As recently as December, there was doubt that repeal would happen.” Noting that repeal is not official until the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify that repeal will not harm military readiness and a 60-day waiting period pass, he said, “There may still be things out there, but I think as a practical matter, there is an understanding that the policy is on its way out.” He concluded with a consideration of whether or not repeal of DADT might aide the argument for marriage equality, noting that both DADT and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) are government policies that establish rules about people’s behavior.
“In general, the courts give deference to the military,” said Professor Holbrook,” adding that legally, the military is often recognized as a “separate society.” A former judge advocate in the Air Force, Professor Holbrook’s remarks examined DADT as a matter of military law. He also looked at the steps that the military is taking to prepare for repeal of DADT.
“Right now, as a practical matter, no one is being separated for homosexual conduct,” said Professor Holbrook of the current situation after touching on the steps needed for the repeal to go into full effect.
Throughout the presentations and again at the end, the panelists took questions from the audience touching on a diverse range of topics including the fact that transgender individuals are still barred from service on medical grounds to the 1st amendment rights of military chaplains, who can express their feelings on homosexuality, but will not be permitted to deny pastoral care to homosexual troops. A question on whether same sex couples who had been denied VA benefits would receive them after the repeal prompted Professor Reed to note, “Nothing in the repeal does anything to help same sex couples in regards to VA benefits.”