On September 20, the law known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) will be repealed, and the United States armed services will no longer discharge service members simply because of their sexual orientation. SLDN and others will be sponsoring celebrations to mark this important date, and we expect that service members will attend many of these celebrations. While "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" will be history, service members must remember that it is important to continue to obey the other rules and regulations that govern their conduct.
Many service members want to attend these celebrations, and some might want to speak at them. The extent and type of participation will depend on the nature of the event as defined under military rules.
We expect that most of the DADT repeal celebrations will be just that — celebrations of the repeal of a bad law. No special rules apply to attendance at or participation in such events.
Service members, including those on active duty*, should be able to attend these events as a spectator-celebrant and also to participate in them. They may wear their uniforms and speak as individuals about the importance of repeal to them personally and to the services generally. They may say that they are happy and proud that they now do not have to hide their sexual orientation, etc. They should not, of course, criticize their commanders (or past commanders) or elected officials or urge the election or defeat of candidates for office.
Because of their programs, however, other events might be considered non-partisan political events — events relating to issues not identified with a political party. Such an event could be one that included, for example, speeches advocating LGBT equality and solicitation of contributions to LGBT rights groups.
A service member, including one on active duty, may attend such an event as a spectator and may participate in it, but may not wear the uniform and may not do anything to suggest official sponsorship or endorsement.
A third type of event is the partisan political event — one relating to candidates representing political parties. We would not expect any of the DADT repeal celebrations to fall into this category. A service member on active duty may attend such an event as a spectator if not in uniform, but may not speak at or otherwise participate in it. A member not on active duty may participate, but only in a way that does not give rise to the inference or appearance of official sponsorship or endorsement.
Finally, an active duty service member may not engage in fundraising for an LGBT equality cause or any other political cause at the DADT celebration if it is held on a military base or reservation.
*In this context, "active duty" means full-time duty in the active military service regardless of duration or purpose, including full-time National Guard duty. Active duty includes full-time training duty; annual training duty; and attendance, while in the active military service, at a school designated as a Service school by law or by the Secretary concerned.
09-12-11 By David McKean, SLDN Legal Director |