A reader writes:
Your comparison to Truman is not apt. Racially integrating the military did not require legislation because there was no federal statute to be overturned. Segregation in the military had been, since the Civil War, purely a matter of executive policy. It could, therefore, easily be overturned by executive order.
"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is a congressionally enacted statute, codified in 1993 as 10 USC Section 654. What is more, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (in 10 USC Section 925) outlaws sodomy, even heterosexual sodomy. Writing these laws is well within the scope of Congress's powers under Article I, Section 8, which reads in part, "The Congress shall have power...To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces."
The President cannot simply order one of the executive departments to not follow the law. That is exactly the power Bush claimed to have when issued a "signing statement" along with the Detainee Treatment Act.
I know that homosexuality and torture are not the same thing. I want to end DADT and repeal the anti-sodomy statute. Disallowing soldiers from serving openly is unjust, unfair, and probably undermines national security, but it is the law. Only legislation can change that. This is not to say you should let up on Obama. He made a promise, and you should hold him to it. But please focus on the larger process, which will probably include some sort of blue ribbon committee, hearings in both Armed Services Committees, floor debates, votes in both houses, and the president's signature. I think it is a very attainable goal. Lindsay Graham (a veteran) certainly shows some open mindedness, and you have the American people on your side too.
I'm not asking you to give up. I'm not even asking you for patience. I'm asking you for genuine vigilance and follow-through. Your real focus on repealing DADT should be Lieberman and Ike Skelton. If you want something from Obama himself, stick to the HIV Ban. That is something that really can be overturned by executive order.
The legal arguments for how Obama could indeed suspend DADT by executive order as a stop-loss measure are explored here. It's a real option. On balance, I prefer the legislative process to executive fiat - and it would go down much better with the military brass. But the president does have a choice.