Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Legislation

Official Release Papers

The Origins & End of Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Up until recently, it had always been taboo to acknowledge homosexuality in the military. While it wasn't officially stated anywhere that it was illegal to be gay in the military until 1982, with the Pentagon passing a law forbidding homosexuality, there was always the threat of being discharged. Though people were so adamant about banning homosexuals in the military, there was little to no proof to justify the claim. In 1989, PERSEC (Defense Personnel Security Research and Education Center) did a study to see whether or not being homosexual changed a person’s performance in the military. Their results reported it did not (McDaniel).

Even with the evidence that it would not affect the way the military operated, homosexuality was still an extremely sensitive issue in the Armed Forces. In 1993, Senator Sam Nunn proposed a bill that would “allow the military to expel men or women who show "a propensity to engage in homosexual acts”, essentially legalizing discrimination against homosexuals in the military. Massachusetts Rep Martin T. Meehan criticized Nunn’s plan immediately, reasoning that if Clinton were to pass the bill it would "still legitimize bigotry . . . and allow witch hunts” (Howe). This would be only the first instance of Meehan speaking out against anti-homosexuality in the military.

Clinton signed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” bill into law in November of 1993. Soon after the law passed, members of the LGBT community in the Armed Forces began speaking up about the law, saying that it had increased harassment and discharges, doing exactly what it was supposed to be preventing. According to those in the military, the new administration had created an even more unfriendly environment, with officers questioning service members outright. In addition to the law not working to serve its original purpose, it was not economically sensible, and cost the military $584 million just up to February of 1995 (Black).

With the policy still in place, Meehan wrote a letter to Frederick Pang of the Defense Department in June of 1997 to suggest he review the policy and make revisions. He pointed out issues in the execution of the legislation, such as the military still asking about sexuality on their recruitment forms, and discharging service members if they confided their sexuality with their psychologists and doctors (Meehan).

In August of the same year, Meehan cosigned a letter to William Cohen, Secretary to Department of Defense, about the wrongful discharge of LTC Steven Loomis, and wrote another letter to Togo D. West, Secretary of the Army, also about LTC Loomis (Frank). Meehan shed light on the fact that Loomis had been pursued, which was in direct violation with the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Harass policy. Just a year after, in July 1998, Marty cosigned a letter to John Dalton, Secretary of Defense, about Chief Petty Officer Timothy McVeigh (Meehan, Frank). McVeigh had also been pursued and discharged because of his sexuality. Also in 1998, the Defense Department released a report stating that now more than ever, there were more service members being discharged on a basis of homosexuality. William Cohen reasoned that this was due to an increase in the number of troops offering up claims of their sexuality to be purposely discharged (Schafer).

In January of 1999, Marty sent another letter to Cohen, this time asking him to re-evaluate the DADT policy. He suggests that officers should be trained and evaluated on how to deal with claims of homosexuality in the military, and that service members should “consult w/ higher authorities before conducting investigation or inquiry” (Meehan).

Fast forward to 2004 and the DADT policy is still in effect, and is still ineffective. Congressman Meehan makes his first floor amendment in Congress to change DADT to a “nondiscriminatory policy”. Exactly a year later, Meehan introduces the Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2005, legislation with the intent of replacing DADT as a nondiscriminatory law (H.R. 1059). The bill didn’t pass, but it didn’t stop Meehan from coming back and introducing it again in 2007 as the Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2007 (H.R. 1246). However, President Bush openly expressed his favorable opinion towards DADT, and the bill did not pass again.

Though Meehan’s bills were not the official end of DADT, they were certainly a heavy influence on the amount of pressure there was to change the policy. DADT was not repealed until 2011, but Congressman Meehan had always stood against it, even when it was against public opinion to do so.