With Vote Near, Pressure to End Military Gay Ban Grows

by Kilian Melloy
Monday May 24, 2010

Pressure continues to mount for the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." More than a dozen retired military top brass sent a letter to Congress and the White House urging the repeal of the military's ban on openly gay and lesbian troops, a May 24 Servicemembers Legal Defense Network press release said.

Rep. Patrick Murphy hailed the letter on May 24, saying, "I applaud the willingness these leaders have shown to stand up for what's right for our country, and I second their call to put an end to this policy." Murphy, formerly a captain with the 82nd Airborne Division, was the first Iraq veteran to be elected to the House of Representatives. He added, "To remove honorable, talented and patriotic troops from serving contradicts the American values our military fights for and our nation holds dear."

"To Members of Congress and the White House," read the letter, signed by Col. Grethe Cammermeyer and 14 others. "In the following days, Congress will have the opportunity to overturn the discriminatory and misguided policy known as 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' We urge all Members of Congress to vote to end this policy which harms our national security and hurts our military readiness.

"Since the policy was implemented over a decade ago we have discharged more than 13,500 brave men and woman willing to take a bullet for their country, simply because they are gay or lesbian," the letter continued. "Among those discharged have been fighter pilots, infantry officers, Arabic translators and other specialists whose services are vital to our military's current operations. To us, it makes little sense to stop-loss one soldier while forcing out another capable, trained warrior willing to serve.

"According to a May 10th Gallup poll, over 70% of Americans think this policy should be overturned," noted the authors of the letter. "As former military leaders, we hardly need opinion polls to know that the men and women we served with are ready to make this change. Our military has a proud legacy of breaking down barriers to equality in America.

"The time has come be true to our shared American values and let our troops serve openly, without fear of discrimination or reprisal. It is the right decision for our national security and our military. As Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen stated, 'It comes down to integrity--theirs as individuals and ours as an institution.' Furthermore, Secretary Robert Gates has stated 'the question before us is not whether the military prepares to make this change but how we must.' We agree.

"Secretary Gates has been directed by President Obama to conduct a review of this policy that will be completed on December 1st of 2010," the letter recounted. "We want to be clear: this review is focused on 'how' the military should implement repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, not 'if' it should. Whether this policy will be repealed this year is a question that can only be left to our Commander in Chief and to our elected representatives in Congress to decide. Just as Don't Ask, Don't tell was passed into law by Congress a generation ago, repeal this year is in Congress' hands as well.

"We call on Congress to act now and we strongly encourage President Obama to signal his support for repeal of this misguided policy now."

A similar letter was hand delivered on May 24 to Sen. Jim Webb, Democrat of Virginia, a Human Rights Campaign release said. Twenty female military veterans from Webb's own state signed the letter. "The letter comes as advocates have been working to muster the 15 critical votes needed on the Senate Armed Services Committee to include DADT repeal as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011," read the HRC release.

"We are military women who believe in having the strongest military possible," the letter to Webb read. "It is for that reason that we write to urge you to support the repeal of the discriminatory 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' law this year. For the sake of all of our men and women in uniform, the time for repeal is now.

"Though we come from different backgrounds, we are all Virginians, we all served, and many of us studied at our nation's service academies," the letter continued. "But our common thread as women reminds us of the challenges we faced during the debate to allow our service in combat roles. Before that many of the same arguments were made against allowing African Americans to serve. Otherwise reasonable people believed that denying these groups of patriotic Americans the right to serve was in the best interest of the military. Now, we hear the very same arguments against allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly. Those arguments are as unfounded and misguided today as they were generations ago.

"There is no evidence that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly will harm unit cohesion, just as there was no evidence that allowing women and minorities to serve would do so," noted the letter. "To the contrary, we have seen from our own experiences that it is dishonesty that hurts unit cohesion--not the sexual orientation of our brothers- and sisters-in-arms."

The measure that would repeal DADT still requires 15 Senate votes. California GLBT equality group the Courage Campaign alerted its members in a May 24 email that although support for repealing the anti-gay ban is strong in the House, more support would be required in the Senate.

"This week is 'do or die time' for repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell. A few days ago, Speaker Nancy Pelosi vowed to repeal the discriminatory policy," the message said, " 'by the end of this year.' That's great news, but the House is only half the battle. With the legislative calendar winding down this election year, the Senate also needs to pass a repeal and then the President needs to sign it."

"Fortunately, Senate leaders are likely to start moving forward on the Defense Authorization bill as soon as this week," the email continued. "Including the repeal in the bill or as an amendment is exactly what we're advocating--and it's the strategy most likely to make it happen this year. Since this is an election year, Senators need to know that if they stand up, we'll have their backs," the email pointed out, encouraging readers to contact their senators. "The time for action is now. We're closer than we've ever been to ending what the New York Times editorial board on Friday called a 'culture war scar on military honor that finds the nation alone among the major Western allies.' "

As the vote draws near, lawmakers are too closely divided on the issue for the outcome to be predicted, The Washington Post reported on May 24.

The article recounted that the White House has sent mixed signals, with President Obama having urged the repeal of the ban during his January State of the Union address, only for the White House to lend its support to a plan to put off repeal until a year-long study as to how to best implement the change can be completed. That study would put off action until after this year's midterm elections, but pro-repeal groups fear that any delay now will result in inaction on the ban for years, if not decades, to come.

"We absolutely do think that we are running a very big risk if we don't get it done in this Congress," said J. Alexander Nicholson III, the executive director of pro-military integration group Servicemembers United. "The environment may not be suitable to passing it next year" if Republicans win a large number of seats in the fall elections.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


  • , 2010-05-25 12:12:27

    The strategy appears to be to give the President and Department of Defense the discretion of choosing a date to make the repeal of a law effective. This is a Constitutionally-questionable approach. It makes more sense to return to the status quo ante, the legal state of affairs prior to 1993, when the service of gays in the military was NOT statutorily barred, but rather enforced by executive order of the commander-in-chief. It was only when Clinton (rashly) proclaimed that he was going to change that executive order precipitously that the Department of Defense went to Congress to tie his hands. The Dept of Defense should not still be given the power to overrule the Commander-In-Chief’s judgement about whether gays serving openly in any particular unit is OK or ill-advised. I am a 53-year old gay man who never served, but who has had several thoughtful conversations with a (closeted) gay MP who served in Afghanistan and Iraq (and fought in the battle of Tora Bora in 2001). He actually opposed the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, saying it would harm discipline. On the other hand, my faculty colleague who is an Air Force ROTC instructor has been clear that repeal of DADT would be beneficial to his ROTC unit. It is clear to me that there is a situational difference here. What applies to enlisted men in the trenches may not need to apply to intelligence officers, translators, jet fighters, etc. The idea that the entire military must march in lockstep during this transition is idiotic. But the transition should be implemented by Executive Order, and not by a clumsy political process dictated by our Congress. Let them repeal the law that requires separation of all military personnel with a "homosexual or bisexual inclination", and substitute it with a law that gives clear authority to the President and his military subordinates to demand different standards of openness and free speech in the military according to the needs of the particular branch and type of service that is being performed.

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