DOJ Cites Powell’s Past Support For DADT To Defend The Policy In Court

The New York Times reported in January that President Obama, who deeply believes banning gay men and women from serving openly in the military is “just wrong,” was finally spurred to push for repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell by the realization that “if he did not change the policy, his administration would be forced to defend publicly the constitutionality of a law he had long opposed.”

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what the Justice Department is doing, defending the constitutionality of DADT against a lawsuit filed by the Log Cabin Republicans in 2004. This brief, submitted yesterday, notes that Congress is considering repealing the policy, but quotes “from retired Gen. Colin Powell’s statements nearly two decades ago in favor of the gays-in-the-military ban without noting that Powell has since reversed himself on the issue.” The brief also regurgitates numerous conservative talking points:

– General Colin Powell similarly testified that, “[t]o win wars, we create cohesive teams of warriors who will bond so tightly that they are prepared to go into battle and give their lives if necessary for the accomplishment of the mission and for the cohesion of the group and for their individual buddies.” Id. Congress found that unit cohesion is improved by reducing or eliminating the potential for sexual tension to distract the members of the unit, and by protecting the personal privacy of service members.

– General Powell testified that homosexual conduct in units “involves matters of privacy and human sexuality that, . . . if allowed to exist openly in the military, would affect the cohesion and well-being of the force.”…He further testified that “it would be prejudicial to good order and discipline” if the military required heterosexuals and persons who demonstrate that they do or are likely to engage in homosexual acts “to share the most private facilities together,” id. at 283, and that “[c]ohesion is strengthened or weakened in the intimate living arrangements we force upon our people.

– Among other things, Congress determined that the statute was necessary because “[t]he presence in the Armed Forces of persons who demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability.

Gen. Collin Powell officially announced his opposition to DADT back in February, noting that “attitudes and circumstances have changed.” Yet DOJ continues to cite his outdated views to justify a policy that the government is supposed to be unraveling.


All this puts Obama and repeal advocates in a strange position. It’s difficult to push for reform and push back against supporters of the policy when the federal government is using their arguments to defend it. If anything will motivate the president and his national security team to begin working directly with Congress to get repeal legislation into this year’s defense authorization bill, this is it.