Much like the Democratic Party, the Columbia Democrats are an ideologically fragmented organization. Issues like drug policy and fiscal policy are very divisive within the group, but there is nearly a consensus on gay rights issues because many see them as matters of fundamental civil rights.
Naturally, when the Justice Department made it clear that they would try to appeal a federal district court’s injunction halting the enforcement of the seventeen-year-old “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, Columbia Democrats—many for the first time—were disillusioned with Obama’s policies. The policy allows for homosexuals to be dishonorably discharged from military service for their sexual orientation, and Obama had opposed it openly.
He claims that the appeal is to ensure that the policy is repealed as a result of the legislative process as opposed to the judicial process—that directly elected officials should take down don’t ask, don’t tell” so that it is the change comes about by popular action, and not just judicial activism.
Obama promised in his campaign, and has promised since then, that under his administration the outdated policy would come to an end. Finally DADT was declared unconstitutional in one fell swoop, and Obama is putting his political ambitions ahead of the civil rights of his constituents. In a phrase, Obama wants credit for the repeal.
The judicial system exists for a reason: Sometimes the voice of the people fails. Though few rarely dare to say it, sometimes Americans are actually wrong. The courts are there to interpret the constitution, and by questioning the courts’ validity, Obama insults not only the legitimacy of the judicial system, but also the core values of checks and balances upon which this country was founded.
Aditya Mukerjee (CC’12) articulated what many Columbia Democrats were thinking with regard to judicial activism: “Marbury v. Madison established that our judicial system is just as legitimate as our legislature when it comes to overturning a law. If we object to overturning ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ on the grounds that it wasn’t repealed through the legislature, then we need to rethink Brown v. Board of Education and Roe v. Wade as well.”
Even worse is that the policy is incredibly unpopular among most Americans—78 percent of the general population favors repeal, according to a CNN poll. More strikingly, however, many high-ranking Pentagon officials have openly expressed opposition to the discrimination. This is a logically sound position for the Pentagon as no research shows that incorporating gays in the military impedes productivity.
All the parties directly involved in the policy and its implications roughly agree, but the government cannot get anything done because of a pesky thing called politics. It is for situations like this that the courts exist.
Evelyn Jagoda (CC ’14) noted that DADT is a dire issue because we are no longer dealing with the theoretical, but rather with real people’s lives. While the controversy may feel distanced for civilians, it has a very real effect on a very small portion of the population. This sentiment was reflected in the script read by students to the White House comment line in a phone-banking campaign run by the Columbia Democrats.
The Columbia Democrats also expressed their disagreement with the Justice Department’s decision in a petition with well over a thousand signatures. In addition to the written petition, Columbia students and residents of Morningside Heights—even tourists from France and the Netherlands—signed ribbons that read “Support All of Our Troops,” which were sent to the White House.