Congressman, Iraq Vet Pushes DADT Repeal

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday July 9, 2009

Pennsylvania Representative Patrick Murphy, who in 2006 was the first Iraq veteran to be elected to Congress, has taken up sponsorship of a bill that would repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

The bill's original sponsor, Ellen Tauscher, has left Congress to accept a post in the Obama administration, reported Philadelphia newspaper The Intelligencer in a July 3 story.

But Congressman Murphy has stepped forward to press for the bill's passage. Murphy had, in his first term, co-sponsored a bill with then-Senator Barack Obama to withdraw American troops in an orderly fashion and on a schedule from Iraq; now that Obama is president following a campaign during which he spoke of wanting to see DADT repealed, the Commander in Chief has indicated that he would sign a bill to strike down the anti-gay measure, but he is reluctant to repeal the law via executive order.

The bill remains before Congress under Murphy's leadership, though it is unclear how likely it is to reach Obama's desk.

Murphy, who served as an Army Captain in Iraq and also had a stint as a West Point professor, has said publicly that "Don't Ask Don't Tell" does not serve America's troops or enhance national security.

The law, which was a compromise forged in the early 1990s after a half-hearted attempt by the Clinton administration to integrate the armed forces, allows gays and lesbians to serve their country in uniform as long as they do not reveal their true sexuality.

But critics say that the law has done nothing to protect military readiness, and claim that U.S. servicemembers, by and large, are untroubled by the prospect of working in close quarters with fellow troops they know to be gay or lesbian.

In a speech on the ban, Congressman Murphy declared, "The policy is not working... and it hurts national security."

Following Tauscher's departure, Murphy said that "It is now our job, and my job specifically, to quarterback this" and see that the bill reaches the Oval Office.

In an appearance on the Rachel Maddow show, Murphy discussed the bill's support in the House and stated, "I served with some great soldiers who were kicked out of the Army... just because they were gay." Murphy pointed out that since the policy's inception in 1993, over 13,000 servicemembers had been discharged under the provisions of DADT--"That's more than three and a half combat brigades.

"It doesn't make any sense," added Murphy. "Now is the time to repeal it."

With America's all-volunteer armed forces stretched thin in Iraq and Afghanistan in the ongoing war on terror, Murphy noted, "We need every able body to serve," the Intelligencer reported.

"This is not the time to throw them out."

Murphy also addressed the wastefulness of a policy that kicks out trained soldiers solely because of their innate sexuality; the Intelligencer article reported that the congressman had trained with a fellow soldier who excelled at a demanding program for advanced training, only to be separated from the service when it became known that he was gay.

The article went on to note that the anti-gay Center for Military Readiness continues to hew to the arguments, made in 1993, that openly gay troops would erode morale and military cohesiveness.

But those arguments have been challenged by advocates for the repeal of the ban, who respond that military personnel take their orders from their superiors and are professional enough not to let a colleague's sexuality interfere with military readiness.

Moreover, the issue is seen as one of integrity and honesty, with advocates of the repeal charging that DADT requires otherwise-upstanding troops to lie.

One officer, Lt. Dan Choi, who recently was subjected to a recommendation of discharge for publicly declaring his homosexuality, told readers in an email circulated by The Courage Campaign, "At West Point, I recited the Cadet Prayer every Sunday.

"It taught me to 'choose the harder right over the easier wrong' and to 'never be content with a half truth when the whole can be won.'"

Added Choi, "The Cadet Honor Code demanded truthfulness and honesty. It imposed a zero-tolerance policy against deception, or hiding behind comfort."

High-ranking officers have called the policy into question, as have some of those who first advocated for the ban 16 years ago. One basis for calls to review and possibly scrap the ban are changing attitudes: American society has grown much more accepting of gays and lesbians in recent years.

But as a follow-up article in the Intelligencer, published July 9, has noted, those shifting attitudes are often generational, with veterans of wars past--World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the first American war in Iraq--voicing support of the ban.

Such a generational divide is not exclusive to DADT. Polls and elections have also indicated that older Americans are more likely than young voters to deny GLBT families and individuals the same rights accorded to heterosexuals.

At 35, Murphy is one of the youngest members of Congress. But he is also conservative on fiscal and other issues, and his objection of DADT is consistently grounded in pragmatism.

The Intelligencer cited Murphy as noting that servicemembers with mission critical skills have been booted from the military because of their sexual orientation; among them, 58 Arabic translators in the last eight years.

The article quoted Murphy as saying in a statement, "Discharging brave and talented servicemembers from our armed forces is contrary to the values that our military fights for and that our nation holds dear."

The article also quoted Thomas Starke, a veteran himself who has advised Murphy. though Starke indicated some reservations about openly gay and straight troops working together, in the end he allowed that, "I don't know that the policy makes any difference," and pointed out that in times of battle, "everybody's relying on everybody."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. 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.