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 administration.

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 interrupted.

“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 respect that.”

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 said.

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.”