Equality Groups Defend DADT Repeal as Lawmakers Seek to Slow Progress

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday May 11, 2011

Equality organizations are standing up for the repeal of the anti-gay law that requires gay and lesbian patriots to lie in order to serve their country in uniform.

Among other attempts to slow or derail the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter, has proposed changing the terms under which the 1993 law would be set aside. Currently, DADT is set to be retired when the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify that the military is ready to accept openly gay and lesbian troops.

Hunter says that the chiefs of the four military branches should also certify that the time is right, the Associated Press reported on May 11. The congressman seeks to amend the certification process by attaching an amendment to a military spending bill.

"The four military service chiefs are far more closely connected to the day-to-day realities facing each respective service branch than those who are currently required to sign off on the repeal--including the President," Hunter, who is a military veteran and has seen service in Iraq and Afghanistan, stated at his website, according to a May 10 article posted at LezGetReal.

"The President, the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs should all take part in the certification process, but excluding the service chiefs is a mistake," added the text at Hunter's site. "They may agree to move forward with the repeal or they may have other recommendations for implementation and timing. Either way, their unvarnished perspective is critical to this process--especially as it relates to preserving the military's high rate of effectiveness."

The congressman went on to claim that allowing gay and lesbian soldiers to serve without the distraction of being required to lie constantly about their core identities would do nothing to enhance military readiness.

"The repeal of DADT won't make our troops any safer or help achieve victory any faster," Hunter wrote. "Even so, any movement toward implementation must be efficient and show respect for the culture and tradition unique to each service branch and the military as a whole."

The director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, Aubrey Sarvis--himself an Army veteran--flatly denied Hunter's assertions.

"The expected Duncan Hunter amendment is designed to slow down repeal," Sarvis said, adding that the amendment "serves no constructive purpose, as the service chiefs themselves recently testified they are already very much a part of the certification process with Chairman Mullen and Secretary Gates and see no need for the amendment Mr. Hunter is offering."

That action, which has the support of several other Republican lawmakers, has prompted conservative GLBT group the Log Cabin Republicans to urge the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to take action by allowing gay troops to serve openly. The Log Cabin Republicans sued the federal government successfully last year over the measure. A federal judge found DADT to be unconstitutional, but the case is under appeal. The Ninth Circuit Court put a hold on that lower court's order to suspend DADT.

The Log Cabin Republicans suggested in a filing with the court that the hold should be revoked or the case accelerated in the face of legislative attack, the AP reported on May 10.

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network also took action, sending a letter co-signed by 85 organizations to members of the House of Representatives "urging members to oppose any and all harmful and unnecessary amendments that have been offered to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2012, put forth by repeal opponents seeking to delay and derail "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) repeal implementation," a May 11 SLDN news release said.

"It would be extraordinary for a new Congress to immediately overturn the military personnel policy decisions of the preceding Congress," the letter to House members stated. "We would interpret such a vote as an endorsement of discrimination against some of our service members who risk their lives to ably defend our nation and its Constitution. Such a vote would also evince enormous disrespect for the thoughtful processes used by our most senior military leaders to implement a congressionally authorized policy change.

"Last year, more than 310 members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, gave the U.S. military its marching orders," the letter added. "As we knew it would, the military has followed these orders and has been marching smartly toward repeal. We urge members to stand strong for prompt certification along with a smooth transition toward open service."

Anti-Gay Law's Repeal Favored by Overwhelming Majority

Even prior to the congressional vote last December to repeal DADT, polls indicated that two-thirds of Americans favored the law's retirement. America's Western allies have all set aside their own anti-gay laws regarding military service, with no ill effects on military readiness, recruiting, retention, or performance.

The 85 organizations that co-signed the SLDN letter "represent a diverse cross-section of Americans from all walks of life and all points on the political spectrum," the release noted. "They include the Human Rights Campaign, Center for American Progress, Log Cabin Republicans, Young Democrats of America, National Council of Jewish Women, PFLAG, and VETPAC."

Sarvis also sent a letter to the House committee slated to take up the bill and its proposed amendments. Sarvis addressed a recent decision by the Navy Chief of Chaplains to instruct Naval chaplains that base facilities may be used for same-sex weddings or for civil unions if the chaplain agrees to preside over such ceremonies, and if the couple legally reside in one of the five states where marriage equality is legal or in a state where civil unions are permitted.

"Navy officials said Monday that they updated the training after questions came up about civil ceremonies for gay couples," the AP reported in the May 10 story. "In earlier training guidelines issued by the Defense Department and the military services, same-sex marriage ceremonies were not mentioned, and therefore not explicitly prohibited.

"Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez said Monday that the federal Defense of Marriage Act does not restrict the types of ceremonies a chaplain may perform in a chapel on a military base," the AP report continued. "The military would not compel chaplains to perform a same-sex marriage if it is against their religious beliefs."

The instruction led to a howl of protest from over five dozen lawmakers, the Associated Press reported on May 11, and the Navy retreated in the face of fierce opposition.

"The Navy said its lawyers wanted to do a more thorough review of the legal decision that allowed Navy chaplains to receive training to perform civil unions on military bases, but only in states where same-sex unions are legal," the AP article said.

"House members wrote to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus to object to the Navy's initial ruling, saying the service was violating the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act by appearing to recognize and support same-sex marriages," added the article. "That law defines marriage as only between a man and a woman, and it also says states don't have to recognize gay marriages performed in other states where they are legal."

"We find it unconscionable that the United States Navy, a federal entity sworn to preserve and protect the Constitution of the United States, believes it is their place alone to train and direct service members to violate federal law," declared a letter to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus signed by 63 members of the House.

"The Navy's decision triggered an uproar, particularly since the Army and Air Force had not made similar decisions, and there was no overall Defense Department guidance issued on the same-sex union issue," the AP reported. "The military dust-up comes against the backdrop of the Obama administration's decision in February to no longer defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. Attorney General Eric Holder said at the time that President Barack Obama concluded that the law was unconstitutional."

"That legal advice to Chaplains was prudent and correct," Sarvis said in his letter. "The guidance does not mandate that a Chaplain is required to perform any marriage ceremony on or off post, and Chaplains will be free to decline to do so, just as they are free today to do so with respect to any marriage."

"Sarvis noted that the Chief of Chaplains' guidance was based upon legal advice received from Navy legal counsel, who clearly took into consideration the legal requirements of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)," a May 10 SLDN release said. "The Chief's guidance and Navy Legal counsel are wholly consistent with DOMA," according to Sarvis.

"To suggest that a Chaplain would violate DOMA by voluntarily taking part in such a ceremony and, perhaps, that a service member would be acting illegally by entering into a same-sex union is an incorrect reading of the law," Sarvis observed. "DOMA does not purport to restrict individual activities--it merely deals with what recognition the federal government will give to [GLBTs and their families]."

"Anticipated amendments related to this topic are likely to be offered by Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) and Mr. Todd Akin (R-MO) to reaffirm and restate DOMA provisions should be opposed," the release said.

"To bring the DOMA debate into the NDAA mark-up is an unprecedented step taken by those eager to interject cultural issues into the funding authorization for our armed forces," Sarvis wrote.

"These amendments represent a not-so-subtle attack upon the senior leadership of the Department of Defense while, at the same time, undermine the men and women in uniform who are undertaking with the highest degree of professionalism the very assignment they were given by the previous Congress."

Hunter's attempt to slow DADT's repeal made the online GLBT news as early as last January, when the San Diego Gay & Lesbian News reported on his first proposal to require certification from the chiefs of the four branches, a bill he called the "Restore Military Readiness Act."

"Hunter knows that not all of the chiefs were supportive of the DADT repeal," the Jan. 19 article said.

The site accused the California congressman of "grandstanding," and encouraged him to turn his legislative efforts to "much more important issues like the economy, unemployment, job creation, the federal deficit, universal health care, education, terrorism, just to name a few."


The House Armed Services Committee approved the bill, with the amendments hampering the repeal of DADT, on the evening of May 11. SLDN issued a media release the same evening.

"The amendments adopted tonight during mark-up of the National Defense Authorization Act in the U.S. House related to the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' represent nothing less than an assault on our nation's senior military leaders and rank-and-file service members, who are marching toward open military service successfully," Sarvis remarked in the text of the release.

"These adopted amendments to delay and derail repeal are a partisan political attempt to interject the same-sex marriage debate and other unrelated social issues into the NDAA where they have no place.

"Make no mistake--these votes should be a wake-up call to supporters of open service that our work is not done," Sarvis added. "Our commitment to timely certification and repeal must be redoubled as we move to the House floor to defend the progress we have made to ensure that LGB patriots can defend and serve the country they love with honesty and integrity."

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.