A number of Democratic Senators praised the actions of Robert Gates yesterday by sharply curtailing the circumstances by which a gay service member would get kicked out of the military. But while the reaction was generally positive, the most important actor on this issue outside of the President said it didn’t go far enough, and that he would forward legislation to stop discharges permanently.

Carl Levin, the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, the Senator most responsible for the defense authorization bill and must-pass measures of its ilk, basically announced that he would call for a moratorium on discharging gay service members, if not a full repeal. That’s what’s between the lines of this statement:

“Today’s announcement makes a policy that we should repeal somewhat more humane, and I welcome the Pentagon’s decision,” said Senator Levin, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “However, I think it is unconscionable to continue to discharge service members under this law when the Commander-in-Chief and the nation’s senior military officer have called for its repeal, and that is why I believe, at a minimum, we should suspend discharges based solely on sexual orientation while the study is completed this year.”

Suspending the discharges doesn’t totally solve the problem. Right now there may be 60 votes in the Senate for repeal; after the midterms, maybe not. Failing to capitalize on large majorities could delay this needed policy.

However, Levin is suggesting two things here: one, that we should act in accordance of the wishes of the President and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. And two, that we can do it, as Levin has said, in such a way that 60 votes would be needed for its removal from a defense authorization bill, not its insertion. This lessens the urgency of repeal, and allows the military to go through its process while immediately ending the discharges.

Of course, it requires that the Senate maintain a Democratic majority. But if that holds, with even Joe Lieberman wanting to “swiftly repeal” the policy, I wouldn’t see anyone in the Democratic caucus objecting. And the military will follow the dictates of Congress, as they have said all along.

David Dayen

David Dayen

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