Since Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen declared that they would be starting the long process toward repeal of the US Army’s openly gay service personnel ban ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ there seemed to be a slowdown as Congress and various high ranking figures in the military struggled to find direction. Now, it seems, significant momentum may have returned courtesy of some perhaps surprising sources.
Over the weekend, General David Petraeus told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he supported the military action and study in repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ and while he stopped short of fully endorsing the repeal himself, when asked “Do you think soldiers on the ground… care one way or the other if their comrade in arms are gay or lesbian?” Petraeus told moderator David Gregory:
“I’m not sure that they do. We’ll see. I know, I served, in fact, in combat with individuals who were gay and who were lesbian in combat situations. Frankly, you know, over time you said, hey, how’s this guy shooting or how is her analysis or what have you?”
You can watch a video of the interview here.
Now, for Senator John McCain, who was visibly aghast when Gates and Mullen announced the repeal in January and vowed to fight any repeal bid in the Senate, Petraeus’ comments on the repeal must be a bitter pill. Even more sour, perhaps, was Senator Joseph Lieberman’s (ID-CT) announcement this weekend that he will be introducing a ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ (DADT) repeal bill into Congress.
Lieberman, whose vocal pro-war stance is well known, backed McCain for the presidency in 2008 (much to the vexation of Democratic legislators), but one can assume he’s now fallen from favor for his audacity in introducing a DADT repeal into McCain’s stomping ground chamber of Congress, the Senate.
Lieberman Announces Plan to Introduce Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Joe Lieberman (ID-CT) today issued the following statement regarding his intent to introduce legislation to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell:
“I will be proud to be a sponsor of the important effort to enable patriotic gay Americans to defend our national security and our founding values of freedom and opportunity. I have opposed the current policy of preventing gay Americans from openly serving in the military since its enactment in 1993. To exclude one group of Americans from serving in the armed forces is contrary to our fundamental principles as outlined in the Declaration of Independence and weakens our defenses by denying our military the service of a large group of Americans who can help our cause. I am grateful for the leadership of President Obama to repeal the policy and the support of Secretary Gates and Chief of Staff Admiral Mullen.”
While an unpalatable choice for some given his wider political voting record, Lieberman’s influence should not be underestimated. As an Independent (albeit a Democratic Independent), his “leadership” may help to persuade some of the more moderate Republicans to favor a repeal, such as Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) with whom he has often enjoyed consensus on other LGBT rights issues, and Senator Olympia Snowe, also from Maine.
That said, there still remains the questions of exactly what this bill will contain and, crucially, a time frame for the repeal.
In relation to the latter point, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs refused to be pinned down on whether the Obama administration would push for a repeal this year when he was questioned by a reporter from the Advocate at Monday’s press briefing:
The Advocate: Senator Lieberman is planning to introduce a “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal bill next week. Would the president like to see Congress pass repeal this year?
Gibbs: As you know, Kerry, the president is strongly in support of this, working with Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen. There is a process that’s underway. You saw in Admiral Mullen the first Joint [Chiefs] Chair to openly — active Joint [Chiefs] Chair — to openly call for its repeal.
We have stated throughout this process that the only durable way for this to happen is through legislation. We think that Senator Lieberman’s proposal is obviously an important step in that legislation, and I would point out that you heard from commanders in the field over the weekend on news shows as well as former chairman Powell also come out strongly in support of repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
You can read more here.
Other questions regarding the repeal legislation center around whether Lieberman’s effort will be a stand alone bill, which would be much harder to pass, or if it will be attached to the 2011 defense budget bill which, while not guaranteeing success, is likely to make passage easier.
In related (and rather timely) news, this week sees the release of a Palm Center study which finds that, at least in other countries, inclusion of lesbian and gay service personnel has not been the apocalyptic event that opponents of the repeal have made it out to be.
The New York Times reports that the study, called “Gays in Foreign Militaries 2010: A Global Primer” and principally written by Nathaniel Frank, details both the implementation of gay service ban repeals in other countries like the UK and Canada, the time needed for the change over, and the impact, if any, that this has had on unit cohesion and military readiness. From the New York Times:
The 151-page study, which updates existing studies on gay service members in Britain, Canada, Australia, South Africa and other countries, offers the first broad look at the issue in foreign militaries since Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called for an end to “don’t ask, don’t tell” earlier this month.
The report concludes that in foreign militaries, openly gay service members did not undermine morale, cause large resignations or mass “comings out.” The report found that “there were no instances of increased harassment” as a result of lifting bans in any of the countries studied.
In addition, the report says that none of the countries studied installed separate facilities for gay troops, and that benefits for gay partners were generally in accordance with a country’s existing benefits for gay and lesbian couples.
On implementation, the study said that most countries made the change swiftly, within a matter of months and with what it termed little disruption to the armed services. Mr. Frank said the study did not look at what happened if the change was implemented gradually because, he said, “I don’t think any of the militaries tried it.”
It’s also worth noting that several military figures will be testifying before the Congress this week regarding the 2011 budget, and it is expected that, at some point, the DADT repeal will at least be mentioned.
Finally, I have previously written on John McCain’s flip-flopping on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ In a 2006 interview McCain is on record as saying that if military chiefs chose to back a repeal, he would fall in line. While more and more of the military’s top brass seem to be supporting action on DADT, McCain remains opposed, in spite of his earlier pledge.
As such, Care2 have launched a new petition to tell John McCain to follow through on his previous promise and to support the DADT repeal:
Tell John McCain to Take His Own Advice on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell!
UPDATE: At a Senate Armed Services Committee meeting on Tuesday morning, Army Secretary John McHugh and Army Chief of Staff George Casey expressed opposition to putting a moratorium on DADT discharges until the review of how to repeal DADT could be completed, fearing that it might “complicate” things for the military. Casey also expressed “serious concerns” for the repeal during a time of military action, but both said that they did support the current ongoing review and would comply with what action, if any, that Congress and the president chose to take. For more information, please click here.