End to the Effective Ban on Openly Gay Men and Women Serving in the US Armed Forces

London, 5 October 2011

The repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on gay men and lesbians serving in the United States military came into effect on 20 September 2011, allowing members of the armed forces in the USA to openly acknowledge their sexuality for the first time. The Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010 was enacted in December 2010, repealing a law which has resulted in the dismissal of more than 12,500 service members in 17 years.
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) legislation was introduced in 1993 by the Clinton administration as a compromise to full equality in the armed forces. It allowed gay men and women to serve in the military provided they did not openly acknowledge their homosexuality. The 1993 law replaced an outright ban on gay men and lesbians serving in the US military. President Barack Obama promised to overturn the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" legislation in a 2008 election pledge, and reiterated the commitment in his 2010 State of the Union address. The Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Bill was passed by the United States Congress and Senate on 15 and 18 December 2010 respectively. President Obama signed the Bill into law on 22 December 2010, promising swift progress to implement the process laid out in the legislation, including finalising guidelines and educating troops on issues such as how sexual orientation will be handled regarding barrack assignments.
The Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010 did not provide for the immediate repeal of the DADT policy, but rather provided for a comprehensive review to be submitted to the Department of Defence. Sections 2(a) and (b) of the Act set out the requirements of the review process, while section 2(b) states that 60 days after completion of the process the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy shall cease to have effect. The 60 days expired on 20 September 2011.
However, inequality for gay men and women serving in the armed forces remains. Section 2(d) of the Act states that the Act does not require benefits to be afforded to same-sex spouses, as they do not fall within the definition of a spouse as detailed in section 7 of title 1 of the United States Code, which states, “[T]he word “marriage” means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word “spouse” refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.” As a result same-sex spouses are not entitled to numerous benefits, including military health insurance and military ID allowing access to military bases.
To read the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010, click here