Liberty Trumped Institution in Both DADT and Prop 8 Rulings

All's fair in love and war... unless you're gay. This summer's culture
wars have touched on two ends of our social fabric: marriage equality,
and equality in military service. On the former, a federal court ruling on Proposition 8
marked a watershed in the grassroots movement and the legal battle for
the right to marry.

All's fair in love and war... unless you're gay. This summer's culture
wars have touched on two ends of our social fabric: marriage equality,
and equality in military service. On the former, a federal court ruling on Proposition 8
marked a watershed in the grassroots movement and the legal battle for
the right to marry. And last week, the civil rights struggle rippled
into Pentagon with another landmark ruling from California on Don't Ask,
Don't Tell.

The federal court struck a decisive blow at the 17 year-old "Clinton Compromise" that silenced and stigmatized
gay Americans in uniform. The law was declared unconstitutional based
on an expansive reading of the First Amendment, and legally
unjustifiable as military policy. The Los Angeles Timesreports that the judge found that DADT didn't help the military's mission and in fact harmed service members:

U.S. District Court Judge Virginia A. Phillips said the
policy banning gays did not preserve military readiness, contrary to
what many supporters have argued, saying evidence shows that the policy
in fact had a "direct and deleterious effect" on the military.

This perspective complements the reasoning behind the Prop 8 ruling,
which debunked the right's argument that same-sex marriage was somehow
harmful to children and families. In fact, social science research
reveals the opposite, that children thrive in stable homes with parents
of any sexual orientation. Both rulings turn on issues of access to
social institutions and individual freedom. Regardless of your attitude
toward the military, or toward formal marriage, the constitutional
principles of liberty and equality, not the institutions themselves, got
the final word in court.

But the DADT ruling is on shaky legal ground. UCLA law professor Adam Winkler warily gauges Justice Kennedy's gay-friendliness:

Kennedy's tolerance may stop at the barracks door.

Before he joined the Supreme Court, Kennedy was a judge on the Ninth
Circuit when he directly addressed the conflict between gay rights and
military deference. Ruling on the more draconian, pre-Clinton policy,
Kennedy voted to uphold the complete ban on gays in the military because
"constitutional rights must be viewed in light of the special
circumstances and needs of the armed forces." The "tensions and
hostilities" created by gay personnel "might undermine" military duty
and discipline, he wrote. "In view of the importance of the military's
role, the special need for discipline and order in the service," Kennedy
explained, the gay ban was justifiable.

Military deference has a checkered history in American
jurisprudence. The most shameful example was the Korematsu decision,
which upheld the internment of people of Japanese descent in World War
II. In recent years, the courts have struggled with how much to defer to
the top military officer--the President as Commander-in-Chief--in
terrorism cases; here the Court has asserted a judicial role, albeit
only a limited one.

As with marriage equality, the last leg of the struggle may play out
not in a courtroom but a legislative chamber. The Obama administration,
which has previously voiced opposition to DADT,could push for a repeal
of the policy--but that would involve a far bigger test of where
lawmakers and the public stand on the issue. LGBT folks in the military
may not evoke the same vitriol from the Christian right as same-sex
marriage, but it does raise thorny questions about military interests
versus personal liberties. Polls show that these are issues that that divide public opinion, but increasingly often in progressives' favor.

Unwilling to leave it up to the courts, LGBT activists want
Democrats, namely Obama and Sen. Harry Reid, to step up to the plate in
Congress. The Senate is mulling a Defense Authorization Bill containing
an amendment to repeal DADT, paralleling a bill passed in the House earlier this year. Activist and Iraq war veteran Lt. Dan Choi writes at HuffPo:

I demand President Obama and Senator Reid do the same, as
our moral obligations compel us to strike down injustice and
discrimination wherever it exists.

Judge Phillips has forthrightly exercised her unquestionable moral
authority and lived up to her mandate to defend our constitution against
a most vicious domestic enemy: discrimination against honest

I implore President Obama and his Justice Department
to refuse lifting a finger, refrain from wasting any energy, statements,
or money defending "Don't Ask Don't Tell" in the court system. His
constitutional and moral obligations are most compelling at this
historic time.

The Human Rights Campaign has also seized on the ruling to press for legislation to officially kill DADT:
"With this legal victory in hand, Congress is in a perfect position to
strengthen our national security by ending a law that has discharged
thousands of capable service members."

But despite general opposition to DADT among Democrats, the
litigation has hit an internal speed bump in the executive branch, since
the Justice Department has been legally defending DADT. The DOJ has taken a similar stance on the Defense of Marriage Act, presumably on the grounds that the administration is obligated to defend existing laws in court in the absence of congressional action. Critics say the White House is simply dodging in order to avoid a political clash.

According to Kate Sheppard at MoJo,
"failing to keep up the legal defense of DADT go leaves the
administration vulnerable to attacks from the right that 'activist'
courts are calling the shots on crucial policy decisions rather than
elected official."

So for now, DADT remains stranded in a legal no-man's land, and
without overwhelming grassroots pressure to break the political silence,
there will probably be no badge of courage in the offing for the Senate
or Obama on an issue dogged by moral cowardic.

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

© 2023 ColorLines