“The time to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has come,” said Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Pa., on Tuesday. Murphy and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., say they plan to introduce a standalone bill in the House this week to reverse the controversial policy that bans openly gay service members.
Repealing the measure is currently stuck in the Senate tied to a bill that would authorize Pentagon programs. Murphy has sponsored repealing the policy in the House’s passed version of the defense authorization bill. Last week, the Senate for the second time this year, blocked the military spending bill that would have ended the 17-year-old ban on openly gay troops.
“Already, two dozen other nations, including Israel and Great Britain, allow their troops to serve openly with no detriment to unit cohesion,” added Murphy in a statement. “As an Army veteran of the Iraq War, I’m insulted by those who claim that our troops are somehow less professional or mission-capable than the troops of these foreign nations. I’m proud to stand with the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, and the majority of service members and the American public who all support repeal of this discriminatory policy that harms our national security and military readiness.”
Both Murphy and Hoyer say they plan to bring the bill to the House floor as early as Wednesday and hope the Senate will follow suit so the measure can be signed into law as soon as possible. Top military and government officials endorse repealing the measure citing a recent Pentagon study that said allowing gays to serve would not disrupt unit cohesion.
President Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates are urging Congress to implement repeal of the policy rather than leave it to the judicial system to resolve.
However the Senate has been unable to get the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster led by Sen. John McCain, the top Republican from Arizona on the Armed Services Committee. GOP leaders have been blocking bills in the Senate in order to put through the measure on tax cuts first. The standalone bill is being widely seen as the last chance Congress has to reverse “Don’t Ask” before Republicans take control of the House next year, which would make its passage more difficult. The current lame-duck session could finish as soon as the end of the week.
Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, along with 40 co-sponsors (so far) are also introducing a standalone bill in the Senate to reverse the ban.
Meanwhile three former service members discharged under the policy filed a suit in federal court Monday, asking for reinstatement arguing the ban is unconstitutional.
Michael D. Almy, formerly an Air Force major; Anthony J. Loverde, who had been a staff sergeant in the Air Force; and Jason Knight, a former Navy petty officer second class are asking the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to reinstate them. All three received numerous military awards during their service.
“I don’t feel like I’m going up against the military, I really don’t,” said Loverde to the Associated Press. “I just feel this is a necessary step for doing away with this policy. I believe the military, the majority of troops I’ve served with, and those who have been studied to death are with us.”
Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network , representing the plaintiffs told CNN, “This filing is a shot across the bow as we prepare to pursue and sustain an aggressive, far reaching litigation strategy if the Senate fails to act this month to repeal the law.” He added, “This dispute can be resolved by Congress or by the courts. With this filing we put Congress on notice that a cadre of service members and our national legal team stand ready to litigate strategically around the country.”
The three are asking to be reinstated on the basis of the “Witt standard,” a case brought by former Air Force Reserve major Margaret Witt, who challenged the ban’s constitutionality. An appeals court ordered a lower-district court to rehear Witt’s case and ruled that the law violates the constitutional rights of gay service members unless the military “advances an important government interest” by removing them. Citing the new standard a district judge ordered Witt’s reinstatement in September as the Justice Department appeals the decision.
Attorneys for the recent suit say the three former service members and others like them “simply want to serve their country and it is fundamentally un-American to refuse their service merely because they are gay.”
Photo: SLDN members hold a ‘Repeal DADT’ banner in front of The White House, October 10, 2009. CC 2.0