Congress volleyed back today on the
contentious issue of repealing the military's ban on open service for
gay men and lesbians. Seventy-seven Democratic House members are
urging President Obama to take the lead on the issue by suspending
“We urge you to exercise the maximum
discretion legally possible in administering 'don't ask, don't tell'
until Congress repeals the law,” the House members wrote in a
letter to the president. “To this end, we ask that you direct the
Armed Services not to initiate any investigation of service personnel
to determine their sexual orientation, and that you instruct them to
disregard third party accusations that do not allege violations of
the Uniform Code of Military Justice. That is, we request that you
impose that no one is asked and that you ignore, as the law requires,
third parties who tell.”
The lawmakers agree that the policy can
only be overturned by Congress – asking the president to lead in
the effort – but are essentially backing the Palm
Center's plan to end discharges immediately while repeal
legislation is debated.
The law known as “don't ask, don't
tell” was a compromise of sorts by President Clinton, who had
campaigned on the promise to allow gays to serve in the military.
But Clinton backed off when his plan met with stiff resistance from
Pentagon brass and social conservatives. Clinton called the law that
allows gay men and lesbians to serve so long as they remain closeted
or celibate the best compromise he could broker, while gay activists
said he “threw them under the bus.”
Since the law took effect in 1993 more
than 12,500 gay and lesbian service members have been discharged.
And while Obama has called for repeal
of the law, discharges have continued on his watch, more than 250
since he took office, including the high-profile cases of New York
National Guard First Lieutenant Dan
Choi and Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Victor Fehrenbach.
The lawmakers used the two cases in
their letter, calling them “two exceptional sevicemen who have
dedicated their lives to defending our country and protecting the
Signing on to Florida Congressman Alcee
L. Hastings' letter are openly gay representatives Jared Polis of
Colorado, Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Tammy Baldwin of
Wisconsin. One Republican, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, and an
Independent, Gregorio Sablan, a non-voting representative from the
Northern Mariana Islands, have also signed on.
“Don't ask, don't tell” has become
an increasingly contentious issue for the president as gay activists
continue to call out the president for going back on his campaign
pledge to end the ban.
The Pentagon and the White House have
offered conflicting statements on the current state of discussions on
the issue of repeal. The White House says there are vigorous ongoing
discussions on how best to repeal – and increasingly the
administration is using the word “change” – the law. But the
Pentagon has said they are not preparing for any anticipated
alterations in the law.