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Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Pa., at “Voices of Honor” press kickoff
Throughout the summer and continuing into this fall, advocates of repealing both the U.S. military’s ban on homosexuality and the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policies instituted by President Clinton are touring the nation, hoping to persuade America that the time is ripe – with a Democratic president and Congress – to open the military to openly “gay” soldiers.
The “Voices of Honor” tour, co-sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign and Servicemembers United, two homosexual rights advocacy groups, has crisscrossed the country this summer with more stops scheduled in Florida and California later this month.
The organizations have found allies in Congress, too, who are working to change the laws governing military conduct.
Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Pa, is the new lead sponsor of H.R. 1283, which seeks to overturn a 1993 law that declares homosexuals ineligible to serve in the U.S. armed forces. Murphy’s bill would replace current law with a new statute forbidding discrimination in the military “based on homosexuality or bisexuality, whether the orientation is real or perceived.”
“[Current policy] clearly isn’t working for our military, and it hurts national security and military readiness,” said Murphy in a statement. “Our military needs the best and the brightest who are willing to serve – and that means all Americans, regardless of their orientation. Discharging brave and talented service members from our armed forces is contrary to the values that our military fights for and that our nation holds dear.”
H.R. 1283 currently has 169 cosponsors in the House, and, according to a Politico report, the Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., has committed to holding a hearing on the issue this fall.
Efforts to move the changes forward have been stalled thus far in both houses of Congress, and even advocates of repealing the current law, including the openly homosexual Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., have hinted a full legislative calendar may delay debate on the issue until next year.
Keenly aware of the 2010 elections, however, some homosexual rights advocates aren’t willing to wait.
Rea Carey, executive director for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, told Politico, “Elected officials always look towards the elections; we feel that is all the more critical to get this done in Congress soon.”
Opponents of opening the military to homosexual soldiers are also sounding alarm that the current law may be challenged soon.
Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, a non-partisan organization that concentrates on military personnel issues, points to the last Democratic president’s efforts to welcome homosexual soldiers into the armed forces and worries the current administration will follow suit.
“The drive to repeal the law this time is coming from Congress,” Donnelly told the Military Times. “Anybody who thinks that [Obama’s] administration won’t push for it is mistaken.”
Organizers of the “Voices of Honor” are hoping their tour will provide the impetus to change.
“‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is an antiquated holdover from a previous era,” said Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United. “The men and women in the modern military, both gay, lesbian and straight, are professionals. Servicemembers United and HRC are going on the road with the ‘Voices of Honor’ tour to show the American public who gay service members really are, and that our fellow troops simply do not care about sexual orientation anymore.”
The troops don’t care? Don’t be so sure, argues Donnelly.
She points to surveys of soldiers and veterans, including a poll conducted by the Military Officers Association of America, which in October 2008 asked readers of the MOAA magazine Military Officer their opinion on the issue.
According to a Washington Times report, of the 1,664 respondents (active-duty troops, veterans and their families) to the MOAA poll, only 31 percent favored repeal of current law, while 68 percent opposed it. Furthermore, 68 percent of respondents argued that repealing the current law and policies would have a negative effect on troop morale and readiness.
The Times also reported on an annual poll taken by the Military Times media organization, which in 2008 found 58 percent of active-duty respondents were opposed to a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“Gay activists keep insisting that cultural and generational changes make success for their cause inevitable,” states Donnelly’s CMR website. “The MOAA survey, which included significant participation by younger active duty or drilling reserve and guard members, demolished that argument.”
In the early 1990s, President Clinton pushed for legal codification of a policy that wouldn’t ban homosexuality in the military, but only ban open displays, what has since been called the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
Instead, Congress passed a law in 1993 declaring homosexual soldiers and recruits ineligible to serve in the armed forces, making no exceptions for who “asked” and who “told.”
Nonetheless, President Clinton drafted and enforced the policy that Congress refused to codify, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
According to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which is dedicated to lifting both the law and the policy, the Pentagon has discharged roughly 13,000 service members since 1994.
Donnelly, who supports the ban, said the number of discharges under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” could be reduced to nearly zero if policy were changed to reflect the law by including on induction forms a question about sexual preference.
“Bill Clinton was allowed to take that question off those forms,” Donnelly told the Military Times. “That was the only compromise of 1993.”
According to a Politico report, the Pentagon is currently conducting an internal review of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and several lawmakers on Capitol Hill are waiting on the results before taking a stand on the issue.
Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., told Politico, “I think it’s important, particularly, if the president is going to make any decisions on that – that it has to be in consultation with the Pentagon, and I think that’s what’s happening.”
Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., added, “I’m interested in hearing what the Pentagon has to say.”