Sunday, November 21, 2010

Don't ask, don't kill

The United Nations currently specifically condemns "extrajudicial" executions due to sexual orientation. Now, a UN committee has replaced the words “any discriminatory reason, including sexual orientation” with the words “discriminatory reasons on any basis” and it looks likely that this will be approved by the UN General Assembly.

The pretext for this change is that "there was no justification to highlight" sexual orientation (Benin) and selectivity accommodating "certain interests over others had to be avoided by the international community" (Morocco).

Perhaps there are sincere beliefs that there's no need to specifically highlight sexual orientation. For example, it is a reasonable argument that having a list of specific discrimination has "the danger of leaving some groups out" (St. Lucia). But the fact is that homosexuality is illegal in more than 70 countries including St. Lucia and Morocco, which is more than the 68 countries that have signed the UN declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity. So the sincerity of those arguments is dubious. And gays will remain the targets of violence around the world.

Which brings us to the the US "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Last June, President Obama extended federal benefits to same-sex partners, which he was able to do because he didn't need Congress to go along. And Congress has balked and stalled at taking action on don't ask, don't tell, despite many of our representatives having promised to do so.

But ... if you read the actual law, you'll see that we don't need Congress to go along to end don't ask, don't tell. They've already given the administration that authority:

"Nothing ... shall be construed to require that a member of the armed forces be processed for separation from the armed forces when a determination is made in accordance with regulations prescribed by the Secretary of Defense that ... separation of the member would not be in the best interest of the armed forces." 10 USC 654(e) 

Given the ongoing combat operations that the US armed forces are involved in, all we need is a simple declaration by the Secretary of Defense that in times of war it is not in the best interest of the armed forces to discharge service members that want to serve, regardless of their sexual orientation.

And given the direction the United Nations is heading, a strong statement from this administration supporting gay rights would be welcome.

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