A bill to repeal the military’s 15-year ban against openly gay servicemembers was introduced in the House of Representatives this week, marking the third time such legislation has come before Congress.
U.S. Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.) introduced the Military Readiness Enhancement Act on March 3. The bill would strike from the United States Code the clause prescribing that anyone who “demonstrate[s] a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts” is ineligible for military service.
Tauscher planned to introduce the legislation on Monday, but the snowstorm that hit the East Coast shut down Congress for the day.
The repeal legislation was introduced in both 2005 and 2007, but both bills died in committee. Last year’s House bill eventually garnered 149 bipartisan cosponsors.
The current Military Readiness Enhancement Act has 112 cosponsors.
Former U.S. Rep. Marty Meehan (D-Mass.), who retired from Congress in 2007, spearheaded the bills in the House, and Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese applauded Tauscher for continuing the campaign to repeal the law.
“On behalf of the Human Rights Campaign, I thank Congresswoman Tauscher for her continued leadership on issues of LGBT equality and, in particular, her sponsorship of the Military Readiness Enhancement Act,” Solmonese said. “Nearly 12,500 qualified individuals have been discharged from the military because they were lesbian or gay, without regard to the skills and expertise they possess. It’s unthinkable that a policy that prizes bigotry over the security of our nation should remain the law of the land.”
During a news conference this week, Tauscher said the law has reached its limit.
“This law has failed our country and our military for 15 years,” she said. “It harms military readiness and discriminates against patriotic young men and women who want to serve their country. It’s time for Congress to right this wrong.”
Solmonese noted that the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will require full cooperation from Congress, President Obama and military leaders.
“This discriminatory law has been in place for over 15 years and will not be repealed overnight. Repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ requires a partnership with the administration. We look forward to working with the administration in achieving repeal, an effort that must include a strategy for building support in the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill.”
It has been reported that Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) is planning to introduce the companion bill in the Senate and is waiting for a Republican cosponsor, but Kennedy’s office could not be reached for confirmation.
In a letter to her fellow lawmakers to encourage them to cosponsor the bill, Tauscher mentioned that the current political climate could be conducive to repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“With 15 years of social progress and the recent sea of change we have witnessed in the national political landscape, I am further encouraged that now is definitely the time to act,” she wrote.
Obama has pledged to support the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” but has noted that the support of top military officials should be achieved before the law is overturned.
“The president supports changing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” said White House spokesperson Shin Inouye this week. “As part of a long-standing pledge, he has also begun consulting closely with Secretary [of Defense Robert] Gates and Chairman [of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael] Mullen so that this change is done in a sensible way that strengthens our armed forces and our national security.”
In November, more than 100 retired generals and admirals issued a statement urging the overturning of the law, and former Sen. Sam Nunn, who crafted the original ban, also stated that it should be reevaluated.
The introduction of the Military Readiness Enhancement Act comes the week before a planned rally and lobbying effort in Washington, D.C., orchestrated by Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which represents men and women discharged from the military under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” For more information on the March 13 events, visit www.sldn.org.
Jen Colletta can be reached at [email protected].