DADT is History

September 20, 2011

So “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is now over. Gay Americans can now openly serve in the U.S. Military. It’s a bold step that was long overdue. But let’s keep in mind, things weren’t always as bad as they were under DADT. They were worse.

In the years since 1993, when Bill Clinton signed DADT into law, the words “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” came to have a negative connotation, representing a horrible social injustice, persecuting gay soliders/sailors/marines who were willing to sacrifice their lives in foreign lands. And true, statistics would indicate that expulsions from the military for being gay increased in the past 18 years (but I would also argue that the number of gay people living openly and feeling comfortable enlisting in the military also increased). But let’s remember that DADT was a compromise that eventually paved the way for our current policy.

Yes, with the x-ray goggles of hindsight, an official U.S. policy that requires its citizens to deny their personal identity is fairly abhorrent. But revolutionary change doesn’t happen overnight. And a pen stroke from Clinton in the early 90’s certainly wouldn’t have been powerful enough to change how hetero society views homosexuality. It’s easy to forget how different our world was in 1993.

Just like it was different in 1787. When we talk about our country’s history of slavery and racial persecution, people often cite the original language of the U.S. Constitution, which considered black people to be 3/5 of a person. Horrible, right? Of course. But that language, which is mades it the official law of the land that black people weren’t people, actually helped the abolitionist cause. Remember that that language was a compromise that kept the southern states under-represented in Congress, and by extension, the White House. Were it not for the 3/5 Compromise, the southern states would have had a much greater population and been able to elect a greater number of congressmen and had a greater number of votes in the electoral college. The south would have been that much more powerful in the years leading up to the Civil War, and possibly been able to enact laws that would have allowed slavery to metastasize even more.

So maybe instead of damning DADT and the evil 3/5 clause of the Constitution, maybe we should be a little more thoughtful, remember our collective history, and appreciate the progress we’ve made with a little more perspective.

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