President Obama's State of the Union speech Wednesday night is being met with the usual criticism from the other side of the aisle, but it's also being met with criticism from gay and lesbian groups who in the past supported the 44th President and who are growing increasingly restless over the lack of movement on the controversial "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in the military that applies to gays and lesbians.
The executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian task force, Rea Carey, penned an open letter to the President immediately following the speech which was posted on the organizations website, as well as in the liberal blog Daily Kos. "While we know the State of the Union speech aims to present broad visions, the next time the president speaks to or about our community, he must provide a concrete blueprint for his leadership and action moving forward," Carey writes. "The time to get down to business if overdue. We wish we had heard him speak of concrete steps in his address to Congress and the nation."
Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was introduced as legislation in 1993, after President Bill Clinton had promised during the campaign to allow all citizens of the U.S., regardless of sexual orientation, would be allowed to serve in the military. The policy, never fully endorsed by the gay and lesbian community, has continued for the past 17 years. President Obama, as a candidate, had said he would work to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" once he was in office, however, until Wednesday night, he had made what the gay community considered little effort.
"This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are," Obama said in his address. But that one line was not what gay and lesbian organizations have been hoping for.
"If President Obama is truly serious about job creation and boosting the economic well-being of Americans, he must provide leadership and actions in ending "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and eliminating the potent economic disparities imposed by the unjust federal marriage ban," writes Carey. "Our country can and must do better. We urge the president to pave the way."
While candidate Obama was popular with the gay and lesbian community for saying he would repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell, he began to run into troubles with gay and lesbian organizations once in office and in October of last year, the President had to once again affirm his pledge of repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell at an annual dinner after months of what the community called stalling tactics.
"We cannot afford to cut from our ranks people with the critical skills we need to fight any more than we can afford to force those willing to do so into careers encumbered and compromised by having to live a lie, " Obama said at the Human Rights Campaign Dinner in Washington. "So, I'm working with the Pentagon, its leadership and the members of the House and Senate on ending this policy. I will end Don't Ask, Don't Tell. That's my commitment to you." That statement, at the time, was met with applause from those in the room.
The Senate Armed Services committee, chaired by Michigan Senator Carl Levin, who supports the repeal of the law, plans to start hearings on Don't Ask, Don't Tell in early February.