Is Obama backtracking on "Don't Ask"?

March 31, 2010 7:42:54 PM PDT
The Obama administration angered gay rights activists this week, by filing a brief that supports the military policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

President Obama has promised to end the policy that forbids gays and lesbians from openly serving in the military, but his justice department is defending it.

Tony West is head of the Civil Division of the United States Department of Justice. West is a former San Francisco lawyer -- Kamala Harris' brother in law -- and it's his office that is now defending "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and using outdated language to do it.

In January of 2008, West was in New Hampshire knocking on doors, campaigning for presidential candidate Barack Obama, who had pledged to get rid of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." A pledge Obama made several times since becoming president.

"I will end 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' That's my commitment to you," said Obama.

However, this week, West's office in the Obama administration's Department of Justice issued a brief supporting "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and quoting former Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell.

Powell made the following statement to Congress in 1993: "Homosexual conduct involves matters of privacy and human sexuality that.... if allowed to exist openly in the military, would affect the cohesion and well-being of the force" and that "it would be prejudicial to good order and discipline."

Powell has since said he no longer feels that way and now supports changing the policy.

In Milpitas, Anapolis graduate and retired Navy Cmdr. Zoe Dunning came out as a lesbian while serving in the Navy. She believes the president needs to back up his pledge.

"He needs to come back and say proactively 'I'm still in favor of repeal and in fact I'm going to include language in the defense authorization bill that would repeal 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,'" said Dunning.

On Wednesday, the Justice Department said it is obligated to defend existing law. DOJ spokesperson Tracy Schmaler told ABC7, "The Department does not pick and choose which federal laws it will defend based on any one Administration's policy preferences."

The lawsuit over "Don't Ask Don't Tell" is being brought by the Log Cabin Republicans, a political group advocating for equal rights.

"The strength to which they are defending this law is uncommon, it's not decent," said Charles Moran, Log Cabin Republicans' national spokesman.

Moran said the Obama administration could bring the lawsuit to trial instead of trying to get it thrown out of court without a hearing.

ABC7 asked Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-California, if she felt the Justice Department was obligated to vigorously defend "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

"Well, we want to just change the policy. Let's just leap frog over that and change the policy. It's a policy that has no place in our society, if we are truly against discrimination," said Pelosi.

There is legislation in the House to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," but when it will be called for a vote, no one knows.


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