Gay Americans are in the habit of getting their hopes up. They rejoiced when same-sex marriage was legalized in California in 2004, then were devastated in 2008 when Proposition 8 banned it. They rallied hard to convince the Food & Drug Administration that a gay man’s blood can save just as many lives as a straight man’s blood, only to see the antiquated ban on blood donations from “men who have sex with men” reaffirmed. And now, it’s happened again: They applauded the U.S. House of Representatives for voting to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in May and the California district courts for ruling it unconstitutional in July, certain that this was the year for gay rights. But then, on the day the Senate was scheduled to decide on the policy’s future, the legislative body failed to achieve cloture. In the country’s current state of slow progress on issues like gay rights, it’s hard out here for an advocate. You have to prepare to be fucked over.
So what went wrong in this latest instance of “let them taste victory, but don’t give them the whole piece”?
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is a policy that bans gay, lesbian and bisexual members of the military from discussing their sexual orientation, while simultaneously barring military personnel from actively seeking that information. Since its implementation in 1993, the DADT policy has resulted in over 13,000 troops from being discharged from the service.
The House moved to repeal the law with a vote of 234-194, and then the bill moved onto the Senate. The amendment that would have repealed the law was incorporated into this year’s National Defense Authorization Act, which was scheduled for a vote on Sept. 21.
The problem came when Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid locked out the amendment process to Republicans, and, in retaliation, the GOP filibustered the bill, which translated to no immediate end to the debate about the defense bill and no way for the Senate to officially vote. Each party directs the blame for this failure to the other party.
Casey Pick, Programs Officer for the Log Cabin Republicans, says that the Democrats didn’t give the Republicans a fair chance to have their say about the defense bill. She says, “We have the votes of people who very much want to see this policy gone. But procedure matters in the Senate, and the Senate Majority Leader chose to create procedure such that Republicans in support of repeal could not vote for cloture. It may be a bit schoolyard, but when you say, ‘I’m going to set the rules, and the rules are going to be very much against you,’ it’s not unexpected when someone says, ‘If those are the rules, I’m not playing your game.’”
Most Democrats say that argument’s bullshit. Adam Bink, Editor at OpenLeft.com, points to the statistics of Republicans’ voting history on same-sex issues. He says, “On DADT, in the House, we got five Republicans. Out of hundreds of Republicans, we got just five. It’s not something that the party’s really come around on.” That is, from Bink’s perspective, even if the bill had achieved cloture, the GOP would have ensured its demise.
The Senate will likely resume debate on the defense bill after November’s mid-term elections. Just enough time for gay Americans to rebuild their optimism and hope that this time, it’s not in vain.