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: U.S. House committee adopts 3 anti-gay amendments to military spending bill

As expected, the Republican-controlled House Armed Services Committee voted tonight to adopt three anti-gay amendments to the 2012 Defense Authorization Act.

The committee voted 33-27 to adopt an amendment by Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., that would require all five service chiefs to certify that the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” won’t harm the military’s readiness before repeal is implemented. Under the DADT repeal measure passed last year, only the president, the Defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff must certify DADT repeal.

The committee voted by a larger margin, 39-22, to approve an amendment from Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., that would reaffirm that the Defense of Marriage Act applies to the Department of Defense.

Finally, the committee voted 38-23 vote to approve an amendment from Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo. that would prohibit same-sex marriages on military property. Akin’s amendment would also prohibit military chaplains and civilian employees from officiating same-sex marriages.

All three amendments now proceed to the full House.

“Make no mistake, these amendments are meant to slow down open service and perpetuate scare tactics about the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, in a press release.  “Republicans should stop playing politics by standing in the way of all Americans being able to serve their country equally.”

“As the process moves forward, we call on all lawmakers to stop these side shows and get back to the real work on which Americans so desperately want them to focus,” Solmonese added.

Servicemembers United Executive Director Alexander Nicholson issued a statement responding specifically to the committee’s adoption of Hunter’s amendment.

“Despite the passage of this amendment within the ever-hostile House Armed Services Committee, it is highly unlikely that such an amendment would ever pass the Senate and be signed by the President,” Nicholson said. “The offering of this amendment was a shameful and embarrassing waste of time. The service chiefs have unequivocally said that they do not want this extra burden forced upon them, so if Congress really values their advice on this issue they should take it and forget this unnecessary and unwanted amendment.”

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said the following:

“The amendments adopted tonight during mark-up of the National Defense Authorization Act in the U.S. House related to the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ represent nothing less than an assault on our nation’s senior military leaders and rank-and-file service members, who are marching toward open military service successfully,” Sarvis said. “These adopted amendments to delay and derail repeal are a partisan political attempt to interject the same-sex marriage debate and other unrelated social issues into the NDAA where they have no place. Make no mistake — these votes should be a wake-up call to supporters of open service that our work is not done. Our commitment to timely certification and repeal must be redoubled as we move to the House floor to defend the progress we have made to ensure that LGB patriots can defend and serve the country they love with honesty and integrity.”

—  John Wright

Marines get trained on accepting gay recruits

ELLIOT SPAGAT  |  Associated Press

CAMP PENDLETON, California — Marine instructor Maj. Daryl Desimone stood before an auditorium filled with fatigue-clad troops, carrying an unequivocal message: It’s OK to disagree with letting gays serve openly in the military. It’s not OK to disobey orders.

He explained that the impending repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” is an order, one heard by generals and rank-and-file alike as the military tries to change the culture of a traditionally conservative institution.

Only a few of the 150 Marines stepped up to ask questions.

One stood up from a back row and demanded to know why his religious beliefs were being “put aside” in favor of gays, forcing him to “basically grit my teeth and bear it.”

“It’s not really open to discussion,” Desimone said. “Nobody’s trying to change your mind.”

Sexual orientation will now be a private matter, just like religion or politics, he said.

Sgt. Jay Milinichik stood up to ask what would happen if a Marine refused gay roommates.

Marines won’t have separate barracks or showers based on sexual orientation, Desimone said. He added that signing up for the Marines comes with an expectation of less privacy.

That said, officers may decide to separate roommates to preserve peace, just like they do now when roommates argue.

Marines will not be allowed an early discharge for opposing the policy but exceptions will be considered, Desimone said.

“You can’t just walk up and say, ‘I don’t like this. I’m outta here,”’ he said.

Classes like Thursday’s for the Combat Logistics Regiment 17 of the 1st Marine Logistics Group are being held at military bases around the world. The Marines expect to finish training by June 1, with all military branches done by summer’s end.

The repeal of the 17-year “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy would go into effect 60 days after the president, defense secretary and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify that lifting the ban won’t hurt the military’s ability to fight.

Gen. James Amos, the Marine Corps commandant, testified last year that permitting gays to openly serve could disrupt smaller combat units and distract leaders from preparing for battle.

When he appeared this month before the House Armed Services Committee, he said he had been looking for problems that might arise under the new policy and hadn’t found any “recalcitrant pushback.”

“There has not been the anxiety over it from the forces in the field,” he said.

In small group discussions, Marines are being asked to consider their reactions to a wide range of scenarios, from seeing a member “hanging around” a gay bar to hearing locker-room jokes from others who refuse to shower in front of gays.

There is nothing wrong with “hanging around” a gay bar, the training materials state.

The officer who witnesses the loud locker-room banter aimed at gays and lesbians should remind the Marines any discrimination or harassment is inappropriate.

If a Marine spots two men in his battalion kissing off-duty at a shopping mall, he should react as if he were seeing a man and woman, according to the training materials.

If he turns on the television news to see a fellow Marine dressed as a civilian and marching in a parade with a banner that reads, “Support Gays and Lesbians in the Military!” he should accept it as a free right of expression.

A top-notch Marine recruiter opposed to the new policy cannot refuse a promising applicant because of sexual orientation. The recruiter might be considered for another assignment or, at the Navy secretary’s discretion, might be granted early discharge.

Chaplains who preach at base chapels that homosexuality is a sin are entitled to express their beliefs during worship.

At Thursday’s class at Camp Pendleton, there were several questions about benefits.

Desimone said Marines must follow federal law that only recognizes marriage between a man and woman, disqualifying gays from housing allowances and other benefits afforded to married couples.

But he pondered a scenario in which a gay couple would be allowed to live in military base housing because they have children and the partner is a custodial parent.

“There are inconsistencies,” he said. “Anyone who looks at it logically will see there are some things that need to be worked out.”

After class, Petty Officer William Evans of Riverside, Calif., said he was a bit “blindsided” when the repeal was announced. The hospital corpsman lives off the base, but said he would feel uncomfortable sharing barracks with a gay man.

“Of course, it’s not something that everyone’s going to be comfortable with, but we’ll have to deal with it,” he said.

—  John Wright

Court refuses to suspend lawsuit challenging DADT

LISA LEFF  |  Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court has denied the government’s request to suspend a lawsuit challenging the military’s ban on openly gay servicemembers.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco issued an order Friday, Jan. 28 requiring the Department of Justice to file papers by Feb. 25 arguing why the court should overturn a Southern California trial judge who declared the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy unconstitutional.

Government lawyers asked the 9th Circuit earlier this month to set aside the case because the Pentagon was moving quickly to satisfy the steps Congress outlined last month when it voted to allow the ban’s repeal. A Justice Department spokeswoman said it had no comment Saturday.

The appeals court did not explain in its order why it rejected the request. In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama said he expected to finalize the repeal and allow openly gay Americans to join the armed forces before the end of the year.

On Friday, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters that the training of officers and troops the Pentagon has said is a predicate to full repeal would begin in February.

The Log Cabin Republicans, the gay political group whose lawsuit challenging “don’t ask, don’t tell” persuaded District Court Judge Virginia Phillips in September to enjoin the military from enforcing the policy, had opposed the government’s effort to put the case on hold.

R. Clarke Cooper, the group’s president, said Saturday that while he thinks the Pentagon’s efforts are sincere, the case should proceed as long as gay servicemembers still can be discharged.

“We said all along to the government we would drop our case if they would cease all discharges and remove all barriers to open service,” Cooper said.

Cooper, an Army reserve officer, said he knew of at least one service member facing a discharge hearing next month, even as the Pentagon moves forward with its training plan.

“We are not questioning the implementation process. We recognize the need for a deliberative process for implementing proper training materials and guidances for leadership,” he said. “But when you have a servicemember going before a discharge panel, this is kind of a ‘left hand-right hand’ thing that is happening.”

—  John Wright

Joe Lieberman blocks Senate Republicans’ last-ditch effort to kill DADT repeal

On the eve of Wednesday morning’s signing ceremony for the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” Republicans in the Senate reportedly made a last-ditch effort to undercut the measure. Once again, though, it was Connecticut Independent Joe Lieberman to the rescue, as he objected to — and blocked — a “poison pill” amendment proposed by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Politico reports:

A last-ditch effort by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to complicate the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was blocked Tuesday night after Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) objected, Senate aides said.

McConnell attempted to add an amendment to the so-called stripped-down defense authorization bill that would have required the consent of the military service chiefs to proceed with “don’t ask” repeal. Under legislation passed by the Senate last week, certifications are required from the president, the secretary of defense and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. All the incumbents in those positions support repeal.

“It was a McConnell proposal,” a GOP aide confirmed. “There was an attempted to get unanimous consent for it to be included in the defense bill and someone objected.”

—  John Wright

Senate vote on DADT repeal just hours away

The Senate is scheduled to vote on the standalone bill to repeal “don’t ask don’t tell” sometime after 10:30 a.m. Eastern time, or 9:30 a.m. Dallas time, on Saturday. With at least four Republicans on board, supporters say they have the 60 votes needed to advance the bill to a final vote, which could come as early as late afternoon. From the Associated Press:

The Senate was headed toward a landmark vote Saturday on legislation that would let gays serve openly in the military, testing waning opposition among Republicans and putting Democrats within striking distance of overturning “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Passage would be a historic victory for President Barack Obama, who made repeal of the 17-year-old law a campaign promise in 2008. It also would be a political win for congressional Democrats who have struggled repeatedly in the final hours of the lame-duck session to overcome Republican objections. …

Repeal would mean that, for the first time in U.S. history, gays would be openly accepted by the military and could acknowledge their sexual orientation without fear of being kicked out.

More than 13,500 service members have been dismissed under the 1993 law.

Under the bill, the president and his top military advisers — the defense secretary and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — are required to certify to Congress that lifting the ban won’t hurt troops’ ability to fight. After that, 60 days must pass before any changes go into effect.

You can watch the historic proceedings live on the CSPAN website. Stay tuned to Instant Tea for updates.

—  John Wright

Pentagon study, Senate hearings on DADT coming this week

Lisa Keen  | Keen News Service

The Pentagon’s study on how to best implement the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” will be released Tuesday, Nov. 30, and the Senate Armed Services Committee announced this week it will hold two days of hearings on that report beginning on Thursday, Dec. 2.

The back-to-back hearings will include an all-star line-up of the military’s highest-ranking officials to discuss the report’s findings. Day One will lead off with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, and the two co-chairmen of the study group —Jeh Johnson and General Carter Ham.

Day Two — Friday, Dec. 3 — will showcase four generals and one admiral who head up each of the five branches of the military. Both days are almost certain to provoke tough questioning from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has taken a lead in opposing repeal of DADT.
The hearings begin at 9 a.m. each day.

Secretary Gates told reporters Sunday, Nov. 21 that he will release the Pentagon’s study on DADT one day early, adding that, “if this law is going to change, it’s better that it be changed by legislation than it simply be struck down …by the courts with the potential for us having to implement it immediately.”

Meanwhile, White House press spokesman Robert Gibbs told mentioned DADT repeal Monday while ticking off a list of what President Barack Obama hopes to accomplish in the lame-duck session — behind taxes, unemployment compensation, and the new START treaty.

“Everything is on schedule and my current intention is to release the report to Congress and to the public on Nov. 30th,” said Gates.

Just last Friday, Nov. 18, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said the report would not be sent to Congress or made public before Dec. 1 — “not before Dec. 1 to anyone.”

Gibbs said Monday the president has not seen the report and dodged a question about whether the president had persuaded DOD to release the report early. But, clearly, something has persuaded the Defense department to budge a little on its hardened deadline. And the latest comments from Gates, in response to questions during a press availability in Bolivia, suggest the Pentagon is preparing for some “change” in the law which currently bans openly gay people from serving in the military. It also indicates that Gates believes a federal court might well strike down DADT if Congress fails to repeal it during the lame-duck session.

In response to a follow-up question about what chances he thinks repeal would have if the vote is carried over into the next session of Congress, Gates did not offer an assessment but expressed “concern” that decisions by federal courts in lawsuits challenging DADT had forced the military to carry out “four different policies” concerning gays in the military “in the space of two weeks … including, at one point, a directive immediately to suspend the law.”

“Having to implement this immediately and without preparation and without taking the steps to mitigate whatever risks there are,” said Gates, “I think, is the worst of all possible outcomes …”

“All I know is,” he added, “if this law is going to change, it’s better that it be changed by legislation than simply be struck down — rather than have it struck down by the courts with the potential for us having to implement it immediately.”

The vote on DADT repeal is not likely to be carried over into the next session of Congress. After prodding from the White House, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid agreed to try to bring the Defense Authorization bill to the floor in the lame-duck session with the DADT repeal amendment attached.

Interestingly, Howard Dean, the founder of the progressive Democracy for America political action committee, told MSNBC “there’s no reason for Congress not to” repeal DADT, but that President Obama “has an ace in the hole,” if it doesn’t.

“He can withdraw his appeal” in the lawsuits challenging DADT in federal court. Prime among those lawsuits is Log Cabin Republicans v. U.S., which will be argued before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in February. A federal district court judge ruled in July that DADT unconstitutional but the Obama Department of Justice has appealed the decision.

“If he can’t do it through Congress, he should do it through the judicial process,” said Dean. “This is a critical issue. For people under 35, the president’s base, they elected the president, believe that gay rights is the civil rights issue of their time. You’ve got to do this in order to get the young people back to the polls.”

The Associated Press’s Lisa Neff reported Monday that there were no discharges executed under DADT during the past month. Starting Oct. 21, Secretary Gates — responding to various court orders related to the Log Cabin lawsuit — issued a memo requiring that any discharges under DADT must now be approved by three of five senior Defense officials. Approximately 35 servicemembers per month were discharged in 2009.

© 2010 Keen News Service

—  John Wright