Va. legislator wants to ban gays from state National Guard

DENA POTTER  |  Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. — A conservative Virginia legislator says he is drafting a bill to ban gays from serving in the Virginia National Guard following the vote by Congress to allow them to serve openly in the United States military.

Del. Bob Marshall said the repeal of the 17-year-old “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy would weaken military recruitment and retention and increase pressure for a military draft. The White House said Monday, Dec. 20 that President Obama plans to sign the repeal Wednesday, four days after the U.S. Senate approved it.

“He can’t tell us that we have to adopt his mission policy,” Marshall, R-Manassas, said in an interview Monday.

Opponents say a ban would be moot because the Guard is a subset of the military, and federal law would trump any state action. But Marshall argues the U.S. Constitution reserves the right to appoint a militia for the states.

Marshall said the policy of banning gays in the military dates back to the American Revolution, when Gen. George Washington discharged a soldier for attempted sodomy and perjury.

“He was more hard-up for troops than anybody,” Marshall said of Washington. “He did not relax his standards to allow behavior that is incompatible with military service.”

Sen. Donald McEachin, D-Henrico, called Marshall’s proposal mean-spirited and “absolutely abhorrent.”

“These brave men and women ensure our safety and security without regard to the color of our skin, our religion, our age or our sexual orientation,” McEachin said. “We owe them, at a minimum, the same respect.”

Both McEachin and Claire Guthrie Gastanaga, an attorney for the gay rights organization Equality Virginia, said even if Virginia passed such a bill it would be nullified because the National Guard is a federal military unit that is subject to federal rules.

“It is a shame that Delegate Marshall would dishonor the brave men and women serving in our National Guard by seeking to make political points at their expense and waste the time of his colleagues in the Virginia General Assembly,” Gastanaga said.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” has allowed gays and lesbians to serve, but only if they were silent about their sexual orientation. Before it was implemented in 1993, recruits who stated that they were gay on a questionnaire were denied entry into the military. More than 13,500 service members were dismissed under the law.

Marshall called the repeal a “social experiment with our troops and our national security” while America is at war.

“In countries where religions and cultures find homosexual acts immoral, the Obama Administration’s repeal policy will work to the detriment of all American troops in securing local cooperation with our nation’s foreign policy goals,” Marshall said in comments first reported by The Washington Times.

Marshall said the Constitution never would have been ratified if states were not reserved unqualified control of the militia. He also pointed out that sodomy was forbidden by the laws of the original 13 states that ratified the Bill of Rights.

Marshall, one of Virginia’s most conservative legislators, was the author of the 2006 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage that was approved by voters. He is considering another run for the U.S. Senate.

Marshall said attorneys were examining his proposal and that he would file it as soon as they are finished. The legislature resumes Jan. 12.

—  John Wright