Democrats on Capitol Hill held the
first hearing on “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” – the military's
policy banning gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military
– since the 1993 law was enacted. They are looking to overturn the
policy, but admit the goal remains elusive under the current
Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-California)
authored the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, which would repeal
the ban and allow gays to serve openly in the military. But
Democrats concede there will be no vote on the legislation unless
Barack Obama is elected president. President Bush would certainly
veto the legislation.
While Obama does support repeal of
“Don't Ask,” doing so might not be his first priority.
Gay groups have long sought to remove
the prohibition. “'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' denies our families and
loved ones critical rights and protections that no American, let
alone those who serve in our armed forces, should be denied,” said
Jody M. Huckaby, Executive Director of Parents, Families and Friends
of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), in a prepared statement. “Under the
law, parents have been questioned about their children, troops are
barred from being part of civil laws recognizing their relationships
and the children of same-sex military couples are left behind by the
military's benefits system. ...['Don't Ask, Don't Tell'] is one of
the most anti-family laws on the books today.”
The hearing, chaired by Rep. Susan
Davis (D-California), sought a balanced look at the issue, but there
was little doubt lawmakers present supported repeal. Freshman Rep.
Patrick Murphy (D-Pennsylvania) took issue with Elaine Donnelly's
remarks, who was testifying against repeal. Donnelly had said that
gays and lesbians could not serve openly because it would be
detrimental to unit cohesion. “In essence you are basically
asserting that straight men and women in our military aren't
professional enough to serve openly with gay troops while
successfully completing their military mission. You know as a former
Army officer I could tell you that's an insult to me and many of the
soldiers,” Murphy said.
Rep. Vic Snyder (D-Arkansas) was
outraged at Donnelly's statement that gays and lesbians should be
barred from service because they represent an increased “potential
for HIV.” Snyder called the claim “just bonkers.” And went on
to say that by that logic the military should only recruit lesbians,
as they represent the lowest HIV risk.
Donnelly, President of the Center for
Military Readiness, disagrees with the policy because it allows gays
to serve so long as they remain closeted. She supports a complete
ban on gay service. Lawmakers asked, but she refused to answer,
questions regarding her prejudice. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-New
Hampshire) pressed the issue by asking her if she believed sexuality
was a choice.
“Well, I don't understand the point
of your question. Except to say this: sexuality is important...”
Donnelly started to answer.
“I wasn't looking for the long talk,
I just wanted to know: do you think that's a choice?” Shea-Porter
“I'm not an expert on why...”
“Well, I have a pretty good sense
that you would answer it differently,” Shea-Porter said. “And I
Yet, her prejudice was clear. Answer
after answer included derogatory innuendo concerning the sexual
misbehavior of gays and lesbians.
“If we say forced cohabitation is the
new rule and we're saying that if you don't like the way you feel,
then just relax and enjoy it. Or tolerate it. Is that fair?”
Donnelly asked Murphy.
“People are human. People have
sexual feelings and they are not perfect. ...[in the military] we do
have issues involving sexuality. Men and women have issues because
they are not perfect,” she said. Donnelly claims that issues
involving sexuality would triple if gays served openly.
“Ms. Donnelly, who has spent much of
her career battling women and gays in the armed forces, met with
significant opposition and protest from many lawmakers, but it
remains critical that we continue to put the facts, which dispute the
rhetoric, before Congress and the American people,” PFLAG
Communications Director Steve Ralls told On Top Magazine.
Retired General Vance Coleman, Retired
Navy Captain Joan E. Darrah, and Retired Marine Staff Sergeant Eric
Alva testified in favor of repeal of the law.
Coleman, who is straight and black,
began his career in the military in 1947. He testified that he
completed his basic training in a segregated unit. “Unequal
treatment to one of us, is unequal treatment to all of us,” he
Darrah, an intelligence officer who
served for 29 years, testified that the law's adverse effects caught
up with her on September 11th, 2001 when she was nearly
killed at the Pentagon. That experience, she said, woke her to the
fact that her partner would have been the last person to know her
fate – fear of dismissal kept her partner off all paperwork,
including emergency call lists.
Alva was the first American injured in
the Iraq War. The marine was awarded the Purple Heart and was
honorably discharged from the Marines. Earlier this year, he came
out against the policy when he announced he was gay.
“My experience [in the military]
disproved all the arguments against open service by gays and
lesbians. I knew I had to share my story,” Alva said in his
opening statement. “The supporters of “Don't Ask, Don't Tell”
are right about one thing: Unit cohesion is essential. But my
experience proves that they are wrong about how to achieve it. My
being gay, and my colleagues knowing about it, didn't damage unit
cohesion – they put their lives in my hands and when I was injured
they risked their lives to save mine.”
“This hearing begins an important
national conversation on the national security impact of losing
qualified, capable service members for no other reason than their
sexual orientation,” said Aubrey Sarvis, Executive Director of the
Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, in a press release. “The
existing 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' law not only hurts military readiness
when our troops are stretched too thin, it also discriminates against
patriotic Americans who want to serve when they are needed most.”