Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has only worked in Washington for a few months, but she's already demonstrating she's got pull – so much so that she convinced the Senate to take up an issue they haven't discussed in 16 years.
After recognizing she didn't have sufficient votes to temporarily suspend the ban on gays in the military, Gillibrand got the Senate Armed Services Committee to promise to hold hearings this fall on "Don't Ask Don't Tell," according to the Daily Beast.
It would be the first official review of the policy since Congress made it law in 1993.
A statement from Gillibrand's office obtained by the Daily Beast claims that "265 men and women have been unfairly dismissed from the Armed Forces since President Barack Obama took office."
Gillibrand's original plan to stop DADT called for a revision to the Military Reauthorization Act that would have forced the Defense secretary to cease investigating gay service members, but that amendment was never introduced for lack of support. Although Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid backed the bill, Gillibrand couldn't amass the 60 votes necessary to thwart a filibuster, a spokesperson for her office told the Daily Beast.
Even though advocates for the end of DADT are dismayed the Gillibrand amendment never got to the table, they are pleased it served as a catalyst for the hearings.
Gay-rights advocates hope that Senate hearings on the matter can force a change of heart among the senators who have been reluctant to dissolve the ban on gays in the military. The public has overwhelmingly expressed support for a change in policy, with a recent Gallup poll finding 69 percent of Americans believe gays should be able to serve.
“Almost all serious experts who used to argue against allowing gays in the military have either changed course or died,” Nathaniel Frank, author of Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America, told the Daily Beast.
Regardless of how Gillibrand's hearings turn out, it's more likely the path to eradicating DADT would begin in the House, where Iraq war veteran Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-PA) is aggressively pushing his repeal bill – the Military Readiness Enhancement Act. Lobbyists in support of the measure say he's nearing the 218 votes required to pass it, according to the Daily Beast.
Movement on DADT in Congress could help take some of the pressure off President Barack Obama, who made ending discrimination against gays in the military a key point in his election campaign. Gay-rights advocates have been disappointed that Obama hasn't done anything about it since he took office – and they slammed him after a report released in May argued that he could issue a stop-loss order for gay soldiers, reports the Daily Beast. Obama had adamantly maintained that only Congress could repeal DADT.