House committee adopts anti-gay amendments

Aubrey Sarvis

Amendments not likely to pass in the Senate, but could resurface in conference committee

LISA KEEN | Keen News Service
lisakeen@me.com

The full U.S. House Armed Services Committee approved three amendments late Wednesday night, May 11, that seek to delay implementation of repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and to reiterate Congress’s support for the Defense of Marriage Act.

The votes were largely along partisan lines and are unlikely to be sustained in the Democratic-controlled Senate, even if they are approved by the Republican-dominated House.

But the question is whether they might survive a Senate-House conference committee, when compromises have to be hammered out between two increasingly contentious parties.

None of the proposed amendments sought to undo what Congress did last December when it passed legislation to repeal the military’s ban on openly gay people, but each provided yet another forum for debate over repeal.

The committee debated for more than 40 minutes on an amendment over whether to require that each of the chiefs of the four combat branches of the military provide written certification to Congress before repeal can be implemented. The amendment passed 33-27.

Committee members then debated for less than 20 minutes on an amendment to reiterate that the Defense of Marriage Act applies to the military. The amendment passed 39-22.

And they debated for 13 minutes on an amendment to reiterate that decisions concerning use of military facilities and personnel for conducting same-sex wedding ceremonies are governed by DOMA. That amendment passed 38-23.

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, called the amendments “an assault on our nation’s senior military leaders and rank-and-file service members, who are marching toward open military service successfully.

“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 [budget authorization legislation] where they have no place,” said Sarvis.

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the amendments were intended “to slow down open service and perpetuate scare tactics about the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’”

Three different Republican members of the House Armed Services Committee proposed the amendments during the full House Armed Services Committee consideration of the annual bill authorizing how the Department of Defense can spend its funding. The overall bill is known as the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 (or bill Number H.R. 1540). Fiscal Year 2012 begins Oct. 1.

San Diego Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter first introduced his measure, called the “Restore Military Readiness Act,” as a stand-alone bill, in January. It has 25 co-sponsors.

It seeks to require that certification of military readiness to implement repeal of the ban on gays in the military be done by the chiefs of the four branches of the military, in addition to the certifications already required from the president, the Secretary of Defense, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Hunter, in debate, claimed that “60 to 70 percent” of Navy Seals oppose repeal of DADT. The Seals have been the subject of enormous public attention and praise recently, after successfully capturing and killing terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden.

San Diego Democrat Rep. Susan Davis, the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee which received Hunter’s original measure, reminded the full committee that the four service branch chiefs testified at Congressional hearings that they believe their views are heard and respected by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen.

Rep. Hank Johnson, a Democrat from Georgia, lamented that the House continues to debate DADT repeal.

“Having openly gay people serve in our military is not apocalypse,” said Johnson, “it’s a sign of progress.”

He also reminded committee members that when President Truman moved to integrate the military, there were some who opposed it.

“I think it’s a similar situation here with ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’” said Johnson.

Ohio Democrat Rep. Tim Ryan read a letter from a gay veteran from World War II, supporting repeal of DADT.

Currently, President Obama, Gates and Mullen are expected to certify the military as ready to implement repeal of DADT this summer. The repeal would then take effect 60 days later.

Given how difficult it has been for the Senate and House to agree on budget matters in recent months, it seems possible that the 60-day waiting period will expire and DADT will be repealed long before a Senate-House conference committee will have a chance to tackle the issues.

The second amendment came from Missouri Republican Rep. Vicky Hartzler. It seeks to emphasize that DOMA still applies to DOD regulations and policies.

Hartzler said the amendment would address situations such as the recent conflict over whether Navy chaplains could preside over same-sex marriages and allow such ceremonies to take place on military bases.

Rep. Randy Forbes, a Republican from Virginia, and others claimed the amendment was necessary because the Obama administration was “not enforcing” DOMA, so it is necessary to reiterate Congress’s support for the law. No one spoke to correct that claim.

The Obama administration made clear it would continue enforcing DOMA until such time as the courts may find it unconstitutional. But it did say it would no longer defend DOMA as passing all constitutional levels of scrutiny in all federal courts.

The third amendment, from Missouri Republican Rep. Todd Akin, would prevent the use of military facilities or personnel for marriage ceremonies between same-sex couples.

Akin’s amendment, like that of Hartzler, was in reaction to an April 13 memo from the Navy’s Chief of Chaplains recommending military facilities be available for use at same-sex marriage ceremonies in states where marriage licenses are available to same-sex couples. The chief also recommended military chaplains be allowed to participate in such ceremonies, if their religious beliefs allow them to.

But on Tuesday, May 10, Navy Chaplain Chief Mark Tidd “suspended” his earlier recommendations, saying they needed to undergo “additional legal and policy review and interdepartmental coordination.”

ABC News reported that a group of 63 Republicans had sent a letter to the Secretary of Navy, expressing objections to Tidd’s initial recommendations.

“Make no mistake,” said SLDN’s Sarvis, “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.”

Rep. Steven Palazzo, a Mississippi Republican, was reportedly ready to introduce an amendment to delay implementation of DADT repeal in order to develop and issue new regulations concerning how to handle service members who have religious or moral objections to openly gay people in the military. He did not do so.

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

—  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

What’s Brewing: Navy reverses guidance that would allow same-sex weddings in base chapels

Gay former Councilman Ed Oakley is backing Scott Griggs in the District 3 race.

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. The Navy has apparently caved to pressure from the far right and reversed guidance that would allow its chaplains to perform same-sex weddings in base chapels once “don’t ask, don’t tell” is repealed. Rear Adm. Mark L. Tidd, the Navy’s chief of chaplains, says the decision to reverse the guidance is only temporary “pending additional legal and policy review.” The reversal follows an uproar by anti-gay groups such as the Family Research Council and the Center for Military Readiness, which claim that allowing same-sex weddings on military bases would violate the Defense of Marriage Act. Meanwhile, an amendment that would prohibit same-sex weddings on defense department property and bar military chaplains from officiating them is one of several anti-gay measures that are expected to be considered today by the House Armed Services Committee when it calls up the Defense Authorization Act.

2. President Barack Obama delivered an extensive speech on immigration reform Tuesday in El Paso – but he failed to mention the plight of bi-national same-sex couples. Obama did give a shout out to the gays later in Austin, when he listed DADT repeal among his legislative accomplishments of the last few years.

3. Openly gay former District 3 Dallas City Councilman Ed Oakley is supporting challenger Scott Griggs over incumbent Dave Neumann in the race for his old seat in Saturday’s election. Rudy Bush at The Dallas Morning News reports that Oakley spent $3,500 on a pro-Griggs mailer sent  to voters in the heavily LGBT Oak Cliff district. “Dave Neumann has not done anything in 4 years to help the residences of District 3, the southern sector, or Dallas,” Oakley said, explaining the mailer in an email to Griggs. “He has not worked with the other council persons to make progress. He is very good at taking credit for everything that was put in place prior to him taking office. He is not the leader that is needed to represent District 3.” Both Stonewall Democrats and the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance have also endorsed Griggs over Neumann.

—  John Wright

Boning up on the 4 anti-gay measures expected to be introduced in Congress on Wednesday

Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., wants to accommodate servicemembers who object to open service based on their religious beliefs.

Earlier we noted that Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., plans to introduce an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act that would broaden the certifcation requirement for the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” We also mentioned another anti-gay amendment from Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., that would prohibit same-sex weddings from being performed in military chapels. Since then, two additional anti-gay amendments have emerged, including one designed to accommodate religion-based homophobia in the armed forces. All of the amendments are expected to be introduced Wednesday when the House Armed Services Committee marks up the Defense Authorization Act. Below is a fact sheet on all four anti-gay amendments from the Human Rights Campaign.

Amendment by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) – Expand Certification

Rep. Hunter is expected to offer an amendment that would expand the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” certification process by requiring certification by the five service chiefs.  The process created by the repeal bill passed last year and currently underway requires the Commander-in-Chief, Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to certify that the military is prepared for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” before the law is removed from the books.

Expanded certification is unnecessary. On December 2, 2010, the Secretary of Defense testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that “I would not sign any certification until I was satisfied with the advice of the service chiefs that we had, in fact, mitigated, if not eliminated, to the extent possible, risks to combat readiness, to unit cohesion and effectiveness.”  In addition, all of the service chiefs have testified before the House and Senate Armed Services Committees that expanded certification is not necessary and that they are very comfortable with their ability to provide military advice to Secretary Gates and have it heard. Finally, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is included in the certification process and serves as an additional voice for all of the service chiefs.

—  John Wright