My issue with Congressional action on the so-called "don't ask, don't tell" compromise is this: There's no there there. The legislation being considered (as Chris Geidner of Metro Weekly describes here) makes repeal, such as it is, entirely discretionary. It says the law barring open service by gay men and lesbians will be repealed if various undefined conditions are met. That's it. There's not a deadline for when these vague but contested criteria—military readiness, unit cohesion, etc.—must be resolved. Only three men in a room (as DailyKos's Clarknt67 describes here) get to conclude this indefinite process. Worst of all, the only standard that matters vis-a-vis a policy of discrimination—nondiscrimination—isn't mandated by this putative repeal measure. As former President Clinton adviser Richard Socarides, who knows from history, has called the legislation, it's a "conditional future repeal"—which isn't a repeal at all.
Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-PA), whose previous version of repeal legislation was actually substantive, tells Geidner above that he's "very confident" repeal will happen swiftly after the end of the Pentagon's study on the subject this December. But what will that repeal consist of? As I wrote on Monday, the language of the current legislation endorses the exact military concepts used to disallow open service by gays—concepts that were proved wrong before "don't ask, don't tell" was enacted. Essentially, if repeal happens, it'll be on the military's terms—not the clear terms of equality, fairness, and inclusivity. The military could very well decide, for instance, that because of (groundless) unit cohesion concerns, gay troops would need to be segregated. The military could decide, for instance, that all their concerns will be handled internally, without a transparent system to implement open service. The military could decide, for instance, that there will be no oversight for the above, or any recourse for gay servicemembers to challenge their treatment. Under the proposed legislation, these scenarios and more could be allowed and "repeal" will still be certified.
Despite these dangers, we're being asked by advocates and others to accept this compromise because supposedly the present is our best shot at Congressional action, or because it's an Important First Step towards binding repeal. But just as no one's asking the aforementioned questions, no one's asking these: If this toothless legislation becomes law, how do we enforce it? If President Obama can't or won't make the military come around now on substance, why do we expect him to convince the military at some later date? And if this "repeal" passes, haven't our advocates given away their leverage? After all, "don't ask, don't tell" was repealed. What else is there to be done?
Meanwhile, gay servicemembers are stuck in limbo, while attention to their plight shrinks in subsequent months because (again) "don't ask, don't tell" was repealed. That seems like a worse state than the status quo—which is exactly what happened when another vaunted compromise was made law in 1993. (Don't believe me? Read the annual reports from Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. The military exploited "Congressional action" then and made a monster out of "don't ask, don't tell.")
Beckett couldn't have written a better shell game.