Tag Archives: DADT

The Jewish View on DADT? Don’t Ask!

By Steven Philp

Today, President Obama fulfilled a campaign promise when he signed the bill repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” (DADT) the 17-year-old policy barring LGBT citizens from coming out while serving in the armed forces. A handful of Jewish groups have supported the effort for repeal, including the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Anti-Defamation League, and the National Council of Jewish Women. “With today’s vote, Americans may serve without being forced to choose between their commitment to our country and their integrity,” said Rabbi Steve Gutow, the president of the JCPA, in an interview with JTA.

A key sponsor of the bill was Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), who broke his usual Shabbat observance to champion the effort for repeal on the Senate floor. All thirteen Jewish senators voted for repeal, including outspoken LGBT allies Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

Yet there have been dissenting voices from within the Jewish community. In a letter posted online, several Orthodox rabbis condemn Sen. Lieberman for his position on DADT. They emphasize that he “does not speak for the Orthodox Jewish” and that his “actions and opinions are his own and not that of the Torah.” Although their claim to represent the entire Orthodox community is similarly circumspect, they raise an important point: not every Jew supports the repeal of DADT. They point to the perceived friction between LGBT rights and conservative orthopraxy.

This statement makes them unlikely allies with a number of military chaplains who worry how the repeal of DADT will affect their job performance. According to an article posted on NPR, a majority of the 3,000 religious professionals in the armed forces are evangelical Christian, a tradition that maintains a conservative interpretation of Biblical passages condemning same-sex sexual relations. “What happens when the chaplain responds according to the dictates of his faith and says that type of behavior—like other types of sexual sins—is not in accordance with God’s will?” asks Daniel Blomberg, an attorney for the conservative legal group Alliance Defense Fund.

Although implementation of the repeal lacks clear guidelines for chaplains, the right to practice their faith as they see fit is protected, says retired Army chaplain Dennis Camp.  However, he emphasized that his former colleagues are not allowed to act like “moral policemen” and openly discriminate against LGBT service people.

This raises salient questions for the handful of Jewish military chaplains, a small but important component of religious life in the armed forces. In contrast to the publicized resistance of their Christian peers, there has been no public dialogue among Jewish military personnel. Those of us in the Jewish community are left wondering where our chaplains stand on the coming change.

On one hand, they are a minority within a larger body that has resisted the repeal of DADT. At the same time, they are called to represent the entire spectrum of Jewish religious practice. Jewish military chaplains are asked to serve soldiers of varying levels of observance; with this in mind, the standard-issue siddur is published jointly by the Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox movements. In turn, our community is divided on the treatment of LGBT citizens in the armed forces. On one side are the Jewish members of Congress who have fought tirelessly for repeal, and their constituent organizations. On the other side are voices from within the Orthodox community who have condemned the Jewish effort for repeal. LGBT Jews in the armed forces have had their cause championed by their senators and representatives; whether they can find support from their chaplains, however, is another question altogether.

Jewish Senators Oppose “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

By Steven Philp

Despite significant party shifts within the United States legislature, repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) policy may be addressed by the Senate as soon as mid-December. In a press conference held on Thursday, Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) explained that repeal of the policy – included in the National Defense Authorization Act – is no longer contingent on gathering enough votes, but in finding time for full and open debate. According to The Advocate, Sen. Lieberman told reporters, “I am confident that we have more than 60 votes prepared to take up the defense authorization with the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ if only there will be a guarantee of a fair and open amendment process, in other words, whether we’ll take enough time to do it.” He was joined by twelve other senators, including fellow Jewish politicians Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), and Al Franken (D-MN).

It is striking that half of the senators present at the press conference were Jewish.  Indeed, Jewish senators have been at the forefront of fighting DADT from early on.  Both Feinstein and Boxer were present in the Senate when “don’t ask, don’t tell” came to the floor in 1993, with the latter sponsoring the “Boxer amendment” to remove the policy from the parent Defense Authorization bill. Both voted against “don’t ask, don’t tell.” At the press conference, Boxer touched on her long-standing support for the LGBT community, saying that the vote for repeal is “a no-brainer.” Wyden has more recently added his voice to the debate. In a letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, he asked that the National Defense Authorization Act come to the floor with the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” included. “This law has resulted in a waste of military talent and resources,” Wyden explained. “It is time for the Senate to repeal it.” Cardin expressed his support for repeal early in the year, releasing a statement on his Web site explaining that the policy “runs contrary to the core American belief of equality.” Franken has been a vocal opponent of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” famously coming close to tears on the Senate floor after Republicans filibustered an initial attempt at repeal of the policy in September.

But can the movement to repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” count on support from every Jew in the Senate?  Jewish senators absent from the press conference include Carl Levin (D-MI), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Herb Kohl (D-WI), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). Levin, who serves as Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has been an important ally in the fight to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell.” In a opinion piece authored February, Levin criticized the policy stating, “I did not find the arguments used to justify ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ convincing when it took effect in 1993, and they are less so now.” Lautenberg has also come out against the policy, tweeting his support for repeal after being targeted by pop singer Lady Gaga in September. With Lautenberg, Kohl voted for the initial repeal that failed to pass that same month. Schumer was an early supporter for repeal; at the Empire State Pride Agenda in October 2009 he expressed his desire to be one of the first co-sponsors for an amendment overturning DADT. Like his colleagues from California, Sanders also voted against “don’t ask, don’t tell” when it was originally proposed in 1993. On his Web site he expresses his support for LGBT service people stating, “As a nation, we owe those who desire to dedicate their lives to service an equal chance to do so.” Bennet also went to the Internet to express his support for repeal, uploading a Youtube response to two students from the University of Colorado who had posted a video urging their senator to come out against “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Blumenthal has been less vocal about his opinion on the policy, prompting a student at George Washington University to solicit a position from the former Attorney General when he was running for Senate this past November. The student related his conversation with Blumenthal on his blog, conveying the senator’s opposition to “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Considering the divisiveness of issues concerning the LGBT community, it’s remarkable that the Jewish presence in the Senate is not only unanimously opposed to “don’t ask, don’t tell” but includes many of the most vocal advocates for repeal of the policy. Reading the arguments presented by each senator, there is a strong appeal to tzedek, or justice. Not only does “don’t ask, don’t tell” come with significant costs to the military budget and personnel, it prevents the realization of justice within the body that was designed to protect that very American – and Jewish – value (see Moment‘s column on Israel’s example on DADT). This support is not insignificant for their LGBT constituents; unlike the House, there has never been an openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender member of the Senate. Although “don’t ask, don’t tell’s” repeal remains uncertain for this congress, it is comforting to know that Jewish senators will continue to fight for what’s right.