PHOTO: Obama signs DADT repeal certification

President Barack Obama signs the certification stating the statutory requirements for repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ have been met, in the Oval Office on Friday. Pictured, from left, are Brian Bond, deputy director of the Office of Public Engagement; Kathleen Hartnett, associate counsel to the president; Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta; Kathryn Ruemmler, counsel to the president; Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen; and Vice President Joe Biden. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza/via Rex Wockner)

—  John Wright

BREAKING: Pentagon to certify DADT repeal

Secretary Panetta

Reports are coming in from sources including the Wall Street Journal and Fox News that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen are going to announce Friday that they are ready to certify repeal of the military’s anti-gay “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Once they have signed off on repeal, the measure goes to President BarackObama for his signature, and he will send it back to Congress. Then there is a 60-day waiting period before repeal is officially implemented.

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, issued a statement shortly after 6 p.m. Central time today saying the Pentagon’s certification of repeal is “is welcomed by gay and lesbian service members who have had to serve their country in silence for far too long.”

Sarvis added: “The troops and their commanders are ready. Our nation’s top military leaders have testified that commanders see no significant challenges ahead. The official certification to Congress that the armed forces are prepared for the end of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’  should go to Capitol Hill tomorrow with the President’s signature.”

But Sarvis also warned closeted servicemembers that it’s not safe to come out yet. SLDN has posted a warning to lesbian and gay servicemembers here. He also advised LGBT servicemembers with questions to call the SLDN hotline at 202-328-3244, ext. 100, to speak to a staff attorney.

—  admin

Low turnout could amplify gay vote

Dallas mayoral candidates make final pitch to LGBTs

MORE ELECTION COVERAGE:
COMMUNITY SPLIT OVER DISTRICT 14 RACE
FORT WORTH ELECTION ROUNDUP

JOHN WRIGHT | Online Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

With turnout expected to be dismal for Saturday’s municipal elections, LGBT voters could play a pivotal role in determining which two candidates advance to an all-but-certain runoff for Dallas mayor.

It’s arguably the gay-friendliest field in the city’s history, with all three major candidates seeking the endorsement of both Stonewall Democrats and the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance. And all three — David Kunkle, Ron Natinsky and Mike Rawlings — have their share of high-profile supporters in a community that’s still smarting from the betrayal of former Mayor Tom Leppert.

Overall turnout in municipal elections is expected to hover around 10 percent, or just 50,000 of the city’s half-million registered voters. But with hotly contested council races in Districts 3 and 14, as well as a gay candidate in District 7, turnout among LGBT voters could be much higher.

“With a turnout as small as it’s predicted to be, for everyone who goes to the polls, their turnout almost counts multiple times,” Natinsky said this week. “Every vote becomes more important. We’re just trying to get voters out.”

In an interview with Dallas Voice, Natinsky again touted his record of support for the LGBT community during six years on the council, as well as the backing of three openly gay former councilmembers. Natinsky was also endorsed by the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance.

“I have not hesitated from day one, or previous to that, over the years to participate and support the GBLT community,” Natinsky said. “I think I’ve got a lot of strong supporters and friends within the community, who are seriously out there working hard to help me get elected, and they wouldn’t be doing it if they didn’t believe in me. And the difference is that I’m a proven quantity.”

Even in a nonpartisan race, Natinsky’s Republican Party affiliation could hurt him among some LGBT voters. But gay former Councilman Ed Oakley, a Democrat who lost a runoff for mayor to Leppert four years ago, said he doesn’t think it should.

“I’m supporting him because he’s the right person at the right time for Dallas, and I don’t care if he’s a Republican,” Oakley said recently. “I wish everybody would just put their partisan issues aside and look at the candidates, and support who you think is the best person.”

Natinsky initially sought the backing of Stonewall Democrats but withdrew from the screening process at the last minute over questions about whether his party affiliation would make him ineligible for the group’s endorsement.

Stonewall Democrats voted to endorse to Kunkle, the former Dallas police chief who this week predicted he will win the overall LGBT vote.

“I believe that I will be the one who will work the hardest to make their [LGBT residents’] lives better and also to help grow the economy in a way [in which] they will personally prosper,” Kunkle said. “I think I will do better [than the other candidates] within the LGBT community. I think the Stonewall Democrats’ support carries a lot of weight. … I’m not going to change who I am and what I believe. My core, basic way of thinking and reacting is not going to change, and that will be supportive of the GLBT community.”

Both Natinsky and Rawlings said recently during a forum that they opposed Texas’ 2005 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions. But Kunkle said only that he didn’t vote on the amendment.

This week Kunkle clarified that if he did vote, he would have voted against the amendment.

“It seems to me that if two people love each other and want to commit to each other … that’s not a bad thing to happen in society,” Kunkle said.

Jesse Garcia, a past president of Stonewall who’s backing Kunkle, pointed to things like the former chief’s support for a full-time LGBT liaison officer at DPD.

“I’ve had the honor of meeting all four candidates for mayor. I respect their decisions to seek office and truly believe they want what’s best for Dallas,” Garcia said. “But when it comes to the LGBT community, Kunkle stands out as someone that was tested on LGBT issues and made the right call.”

Rawlings, who’s raised by far the most money and is perhaps an odds-on favorite to at least make the runoff, said his plan for economic development and philosophy of inclusion makes him the best candidate for the LGBT community.

“When this city is grown in the correct way, we all win, and most of the LGBT community I know are very pro-growth, are great professionals, and want to have a fabulous business environment,” Rawlings said. “We have the ninth-largest city in this country, and the more we include all the diversity throughout the city, I think the stronger we are.”

In endorsing Natinsky, DGLA issued a rare “warning” about Rawlings, saying the former Pizza Hut CEO’s “passion for commerce and business interests supremely overwhelms his appreciation for the civil rights of all people.”

But Rawlings has vehemently denied DGLA’s accusation, saying he demonstrated his willingness to stand up for people’s civil rights as the city’s homeless czar.

“I don’t think any CEO that I know has spent five years dealing and working with the homeless,” Rawlings said. “If I’m able to do that, I would think I could do it for groups that are much more powerful than them, and I think the LGBT community is one of them.”

Lesbian activist Pam Gerber, a member of both DGLA and Stonewall, has called DGLA’s warning about Rawlings “irresponsible” and immature.”

Gerber, also a member of a city task force on LGBT issues, said this week she’s supporting Rawlings because he has “the right combination of skills.”

“Whether it was him running a successful company or running a successful nonprofit endeavor, he’s proven that he can do it all, and I think that’s a valuable pallet of skills,” Gerber said. “I just think Mike has more to offer.”

But Gerber added that she doesn’t think any of the three major candidates would do harm to the LGBT community as mayor.

“I think they all have our best interests in mind,” Gerber said. “I think we’re really lucky to have the candidates we have. The only thing we’re not lucky about is the apathy of our community to get out and vote.”

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday. For a full list of locations, go to www.dalcoelections.org.

—  John Wright

Pentagon study on repeal of ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ to be released at 1 p.m. Dallas time

Sen. John Cornyn

A Pentagon study on the impacts of repealing “don’t ask don’t tell” will be released at 1 p.m. today Dallas time, according to a press advisory from the Department of Defense:

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen will conduct a press briefing at 2 p.m. EST on Tuesday, Nov. 30, in the Pentagon Briefing Room (2E973) to discuss the public release of the Comprehensive Review Working Group (CRWG) report.

They will be followed by Gen. Carter F. Ham and Jeh Johnson, co-chairs of the CRWG.

The Associated Press has a story up about the findings of the study and what they mean for the repeal effort:

The Pentagon study that argues that gay troops could serve openly without hurting the military’s ability to fight is expected to re-ignite debate this month on Capitol Hill over repealing the 17-year-old “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Officials familiar with the 10-month study’s results have said a clear majority of respondents don’t care if gays serve openly, with 70 percent predicting that lifting the ban would have positive, mixed or no results. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the findings hadn’t been released.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, who have both said they support repealing the law, were scheduled to discuss the findings with Congress Tuesday morning and with reporters Tuesday afternoon.

Republicans, led by Sen. John McCain of Arizona, have mostly opposed repealing the law because they say efforts to do so are politically driven and dangerous at a time of two wars.

Needless to say, neither of Texas two Republican senators are on the list of “key Senators that need to hear from repeal supporters” put out by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. We’ve made inquiries to both Texas senators’ offices about whether the Pentagon study results affect their position on DADT. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who likes to accept awards from LGBT groups in his spare time, is among many GOP senators who’ve said they didn’t want to act on DADT repeal until the study is released:

“Sen. Cornyn believes that readiness must remain the highest priority of our military,” Cornyn spokesman Kevin McLaughlin said in June. “Right now, the Pentagon is studying how repealing DADT would affect military readiness, and this careful review is expected to be completed by the end of the year. Sen. Cornyn believes Congress should not to act on a possible repeal until that review has been completed.”

—  John Wright

Groups step up pressure as clock winds down on DADT repeal

DAVID CRARY  |  Associated Press

NEW YORK — Elated by a major court victory, gay-rights activists are stepping up pressure on Congress to repeal the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy this month. They want to avoid potentially lengthy appeals and fear their chances for a legislative fix will fade after Election Day.

The House voted in May to repeal the 17-year-old policy banning openly gay service members. Many majority Democrats in the Senate want to take up the matter in the remaining four weeks before the pre-election recess, but face opposition from Republican leaders.

National gay-rights groups, fearing possible Democratic losses on Nov. 2, urged their supporters Friday, Sept. 10 to flood senators’ offices with phone calls and e-mails asking that the Senate vote on the measure during the week of Sept. 20.

“If we don’t speak up now, our window for repeal could close,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign.

Supporters of repeal hope senators heed the ruling issued Thursday in Los Angeles by U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips, who said ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ was an unconstitutional violation of the due process and free speech rights of gays and lesbians.

The policy has a “direct and deleterious effect” on the military by hurting recruitment efforts during wartime and requiring the discharge of service members who have critical skills and training, she said.

The Log Cabin Republicans, a Republican gay-rights organization, sued the federal government in 2004 to stop the policy, and Phillips said she would draft an order within a week doing just that. The U.S. Department of Justice hasn’t yet said whether it will appeal the ruling; spokesman Charles Miller said attorneys were reviewing it.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen — both in favor of repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” — say they prefer that the change wait until the military completes a review of the issue. That study, due in December, includes surveys of troops and their families to get their views and help determine how a change would be implemented.

Gay-rights activists, worried that the election could tilt the balance of power in Congress, don’t want to wait.

“We’re pleased by the judge’s decision, but this decision is likely to be appealed and will linger for years,” said Aubrey Sarvis of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which has lobbied against ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’

The House-passed repeal measure is contained in a broader defense policy bill which has yet to be sent to the Senate floor because of an objection by Republican Sen. John McCain during debate in the Armed Services Committee.

McCain said it was “disgraceful” to push for a vote on the repeal before completion of the Pentagon review.

Democrats, who effectively hold 59 Senate seats, will need at least some Republican support to reach the 60 votes needed to pass the bill. Republican Susan Collins of Maine voted for repeal in committee.

The Senate has a packed agenda for the next few weeks before its recess, and Republicans have warned that they might not make time for the defense bill if it contains controversial amendments. Along with the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ repeal, it includes a proposal that would allow female service members to receive abortions at military facilities.

Among those on the spot is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who must decide how hard to push for a vote on the repeal.

Over the summer, Reid was given the West Point ring of Lt. Dan Choi, an Iraq war veteran who was discharged from the New York Army National Guard because he was open about his homosexuality. Choi said he would take back the ring only when ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ was repealed, and he was among many activists urging Reid to press hard for a vote.

“The time for accountability has come,” Choi said Friday. “Sen. Reid needs to follow the leadership of Judge Phillips and take immediate action to support the men and women serving in our nation’s military.”

President Barack Obama has said he would like ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ repealed, but wants Congress to take the lead in accomplishing that. Republicans on Friday called on the administration to defend the law until the Defense Department had a chance to complete its review.

“After making the continuous sacrifice of fighting two wars over the course of eight years, the men and women of our military deserve to be heard — and have earned that right,” said California Rep. Buck McKeon, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee.

During the trial before Phillips, government attorneys presented only the policy’s legislative history in their defense and called no witnesses.

Justice Department attorney Paul G. Freeborne argued that the issue should be decided by Congress rather than in court. He said the plaintiffs were trying to force a federal court to overstep its bounds and halt the policy as it is being debated by lawmakers.

In 2008, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the law itself is constitutional, but the way the military applies it is not. The court said it’s OK to discharge people for being gay — but only if the military proves that the dismissal furthers military readiness.

The Pentagon has ignored that ruling over the past two years, continuing to discharge gays without making such a showing.

The case before the 9th Circuit concerned former Maj. Margaret Witt, a decorated Air Force flight nurse discharged for having a long-term relationship with a civilian woman in Washington state. Witt continues to seek reinstatement, and a federal trial was scheduled to begin Monday, Sept. 13 in Tacoma over whether her firing actually furthered military goals.

Phillips’ decision was the third federal court ruling since July to assert that statutory limits on the rights of gays and lesbians were unconstitutional. Earlier, federal judges ruled against California’s Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage, and against the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal recognition to same-sex marriages even in states such as Massachusetts that allow them.

—  John Wright