DADT: Before and After
This information is excerpted from Freedom to Serve: The Definitive Guide to LGBT Military Service. To download the full guide, click here.
What the Repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Means
“Don't Ask, Don't Tell” (DADT) was the 1993 law that prevented LGB service members from serving openly. The repeal of DADT is a major step forward for gay and lesbian service members, their families, the military, and the country as a whole. No longer will LGB people who volunteer to serve this country and defend our freedoms be denied that privilege because of who they are. Nor will they be forced to hide a part of themselves in order to continue their service.
But the repeal of DADT does not mean there is complete equality in our armed forces. There are other discriminatory laws and policies that will continue to prevent LGBT service members and their families from enjoying the same rights as their straight counterparts and their families. The following section lays out exactly what the repeal of DADT changes, and what it doesn’t.
What Repeal Changes
With the repeal of DADT, service members will no longer be discharged solely on the basis of their sexual orientation. In practice, this means that service members who are complying with all sexual-orientation-neutral policies and regulations cannot be kicked out for engaging in the three types of so-called “homosexual conduct” that existed under DADT. Service members will no longer be forced out of the armed forces for:
- Statements — Statements are admissions of one’s sexual orientation, such as “I am gay.” Under DADT, a statement like this—or any other statement that would lead a “reasonable person” to conclude that a service member was gay—was considered homosexual conduct and was grounds for discharge.2
With the repeal of DADT, statements about a service member’s sexual orientation are no longer grounds for discharge, and service members are free to come out to whomever they would like, if they so choose.
- Acts — Under DADT, a homosexual act was any bodily contact, actively undertaken or passively permitted, between members of the same gender for the purpose of satisfying sexual desires, and any bodily contact that a reasonable person would understand to demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in a homosexual act.3
With the repeal of DADT, lawful acts with a person of the same sex are no longer grounds for discharge. Service members are free to engage in intimate conduct with a person of the same sex to the extent permissible under sexual-orientation-neutral regulations. However, there are other provisions that limit or prohibit certain acts, and that can have serious penalties. For more information, please refer to the “Uniform Code of Military Justice” and “Military Policies” sections of this guide.
- Marriage — Same-sex marriage is currently available in several states and the District of Columbia. Other states have provisions for domestic partnerships or civil unions. Under DADT, any marriage or attempted marriage (which included civil unions, domestic partnerships or commitment ceremonies) was grounds for discharge.4
Today, service members are free to marry, obtain a domestic partnership or civil union, or have a commitment ceremony with another person of the same sex without fear of separation. Because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a same-sex marriage will not be recognized as a valid marriage by the military and other parts of the federal government, even if it is validly performed in a state that allows same-sex marriage. Spouses of service members, therefore, will be limited in the benefits available to them (for more information, please see the “Families and Benefits” section of this guide). SLDN is working to change this inequity, but service members can rest assured that they will not be separated for committing to the person they love.
What Repeal Does Not Change
By repealing DADT, the country and the military have taken a significant step towards equality for all who want to serve their country in uniform. But there are other discriminatory policies in the military that the repeal of DADT does not change. These include:
- Transgender service — “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal does not change the medical regulatory ban in place for aspiring or current service members who identify as transgender. For detailed information about military policies regarding transgender service, please see the “Transgender Service” section of this Guide.
- HIV regulations — The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” does not change the regulatory scheme in place for aspiring or current service members who are HIV-positive. For detailed information about the service policies regarding HIV, see the “HIV/AIDS Regulations” section of this Guide.
- The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) is the criminal law of the US military. The repeal of DADT does not change any part of that law. All service members, regardless of sexual orientation, are responsible for understanding and complying with all provisions of the UCMJ. There is a risk, however, that those who wish to target gay and lesbian service members may make false allegations or misuse sections of the UCMJ to continue to discriminate against LGB service members. For more information about these rules, see “The UCMJ” section of this Guide.
- VA Benefits — The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” does not change whether or not someone is eligible for VA benefits. The VA will continue to determine a service member’s eligibility for benefits based on factors such as time served, discharge characterization, and disability rating. For a more thorough discussion of Veterans’ Benefits and eligibility requirements, refer to the “Veterans’ Benefits” section of this Guide.
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