In the last several days support for lifting the ban on gays serving openly in the military has been surfacing on numerous fronts, leading even those who have been critical of the Obama administration for not moving fast enough on gay rights issues to feel encouraged.
On Oct. 7 Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Pa., said, on national cable television, that he has 176 of the required 218 co-sponsors in the House on a bill, H.R. 1283, that would overturn the Pentagon policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” That law, passed by Congress in 1993, prohibits gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals from openly serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.
Under the law more than 13,000 men and women have been discharged from the military, including 800 medics and fighter pilots, and 60 Arabic linguists.
In the Senate, meanwhile, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) announced, also on Oct. 7, that hearings on repeal of the discriminatory law will take place this fall, perhaps as early as this month.
Gillibrand took up this issue soon after she inherited former Sen. Hillary Clinton’s seat in an effort to broaden her political appeal to a larger, more progressive electorate.
Gillibrand said she personally appealed to Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin to hold hearings on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” She does not hold a seat on Levin’s committee but has connections. Sen. Levin is the uncle of Steve Levin, winner of a recent City Council primary election in New York. The younger Levin and Gillibrand share the same political mentor – New York Sen. Chuck Schumer.
“I do believe that we will have the support in Congress that we need,” the senator said. “And I think there’s more support than you think.” She also said that “the White House is 100 percent on board with this effort.”
The developments in Congress came only two days after it was reported that President Obama will speak Saturday at the annual dinner for the Human Rights Campaign, a leading gay rights advocacy group. The president’s speech comes only a day before the National Equality March which will take place in Washington on Sunday and is expected to bring thousands of gay rights supporters to the National Mall.
The president’s appearance at the dinner is seen by gay activists as a significant show of his support for gay rights at a time when some in the movement have questioned the speed with which his administration has moved on gay rights issues.
The president has professed support for ending the ban on gays in the military and called the law that forbids federal recognition of same-sex marriages discriminatory.
Adding to the anticipation that major progress on gay rights is closer than ever, however, was news that came out of the Pentagon itself last week.
Reports began appearing Sept. 30 that an article in the next issue of the Pentagon’s top scholarly journal calls in clear terms for lifting the ban on gays serving openly in the military, arguing that the military is essentially forcing thousands of gay men and women to lead dishonest lives in an organization that emphasizes integrity as a fundamental tenet.
The article in the upcoming issue of Joint Force Quarterly, which is published officially by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was written by an Air Force Colonel who studied the issue for months while a student at the National Defense University in Washington and who concludes that having openly gay troops in the ranks will not hurt combat readiness.
The Pentagon says that the office of Admiral Mike Mullen, the Joint Chiefs chairman who is the nation’s top military officer, reviewed the article before it was published.
“After a careful examination, there is no scientific evidence to support the claim that unit cohesion will be negatively affected if homosexuals serve openly,” writes Col. Om Prakash, who works directly under Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. “Based on this research, it is not time for the administration to re-examine the issue; rather it is time for the administration to examine how to implement the repeal of the ban.”
Prakash cites the examples of other militaries – including Australia, Israel, the United Kingdom and Canada – that allow gays to serve openly. “There was no mass exodus of heterosexuals, and there was no mass ‘coming out’ of homosexuals,” he said.
The article says the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law “conflicts with the American creed of ‘equality for all,’ places commanders in difficult moral dilemmas, and is ultimately more damaging to the unit cohesion its stated purpose is to preserve.”