TOP 10: Gays began serving openly in U.S. military

DADT

KISSING DADT GOODBYE | Petty Officer 2nd Class Marissa Gaeta, left, kisses her girlfriend, Citlalic Snell, at a Navy base in Virginia Beach, Va., on Dec. 22. According to Navy tradition, one lucky sailor is chosen to be first off the ship for the long-awaited kiss with a loved one. This time, for the first time, the happily reunited couple was gay. (Associated Press)

No 1:

Legislation to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” passed Congress last year and was signed by President Barack Obama on Dec. 22, 2010.

But 2011 was the year of implementation.

While other countries that changed policies about gays and lesbians serving in the armed forces recommended a quick implementation, the U.S. chose a slow, methodical approach.

Before repeal went into effect, the defense secretary, chairman of the joint chiefs and president had to certify that the military was ready for implementation.

Among the delays in implementing the repeal was to give the Pentagon time to change regulations and benefits, according to Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Next, training materials had to be prepared and, finally, 2.2 million troops had to be trained. In February, the military announced some of its plans.

The idea of building separate bathroom facilities was rejected and personnel wouldn’t be given the option of refusing to serve with gays and lesbians.

The Navy announced its training schedule to be complete by June 30.

Support for the repeal grew and came from some surprising sources.

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld even announced: “We know that gays and lesbians have been serving in the military for decades with honorable service. We know that [repeal] is an idea whose time has
come.”

As implementation progressed, conservative members of Congress continued to try to derail it. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would have required all four service chiefs to certify that DADT repeal wouldn’t hurt the military’s readiness.

Another amendment by Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss, would require the military to “accommodate” servicemembers who believe that “homosexual or bisexual conduct is immoral and/or an inappropriate expression of human sexuality.”

The Navy previously announced that it would allow same-sex weddings on bases in states where it’s legal.

In May, it reversed course saying that the Defense of Marriage Act precluded it from allowing chaplains to perform marriages for gay and lesbian servicemembers on base.

As certification approached, the Pentagon made it clear that same-sex spouses of military personnel would not be recognized and would receive none of the benefits opposite-sex spouses receive.

On July 22, Obama, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen certified that the U.S. military was ready for DADT repeal.

Repeal would be final 60 days from certification.

On Sept. 20 gays and lesbians could serve openly, if not equally, in the military. Members of the military began coming out without fear of expulsion, but those who had same-sex spouses were still not given 40 benefits that opposite-sex couples enjoy.

Those benefits include healthcare for the spouse and housing allowances that can be substantial.

Even if the couple has children, the spouse cannot be issued an identification card to get on base with the military member’s child for healthcare and cannot access the base attorney to write wills and other papers normally drawn up before an overseas deployment.

Servicemembers dismissed under DADT began to consider re-enlisting.

Cully Johnson, an owner of Dallas Eagle, said at a Sept. 20 DADT repeal celebration that he would like to return to complete his military career.

Although gays and lesbians can now serve without fear of dismissal or rebuke, the ban on transgenders serving remains in effect.

More than 14,000 men and women were discharged under DADT during its 18-year existence with some estimates of the cost to taxpayers running as high as $700 million.

— David Taffet

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 30, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

What’s Brewing: Chick-fil-A downplays anti-gay sponsorship; Gates on DADT repeal; Lady Gaga

1. Chick-fil-A is attempting to downplay its sponsorship of two upcoming events hosted by the anti-gay Pennsylvania Family Institute, releasing a statement Thursday on Facebook saying a “local operator” had simply agreed to provide greasy-ass food. In the meantime, however, LGBT blogs have uncovered several additional connections between the company and anti-gay groups. Fool me once …

2. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the Pentagon is moving fast to end “don’t ask don’t tell,” with military leaders expected to begin training troops on the change “in a very few weeks.” The troop training is part of a three-step process outlined by Gates on Wednesday in his first public comments about DADT since President Barack Obama signed the bill repealing the policy.

3. Lady Gaga unveils Polaroid sunglasses that take photos, video (video above).

—  John Wright

Obama to sign bill that DOES NOT immediately repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ on Wednesday

SLDN provided this image from Saturday’s ‘NBC Nightly News’ to illustrate how media outlets are incorrectly reporting that DADT has been repealed.

President Barack Obama will sign the bill that outlines a path for repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” in a ceremony at the Department of the Interior, at 9:15 a.m. Eastern (8:15 Central) on Wednesday. However, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network is reminding folks — and especially the media — that even after Obama signs the bill, the law will remain in effect for an unknown period of time.

“We need the media’s help to let troops know they remain at risk under the law even after the President signs the bill,” SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis said in an e-mail statement this morning under the subject line “URGENT: Media warning ….”

“The Pentagon just released new guidance that made clear ‘Don’t Ask’ may still be the law for some time to come,” Sarvis said. “We respectfully renew our call for Defense Secretary Robert Gates to use his authority to suspend all ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ investigations during this limbo period. Until the President signs the bill, until there is certification, and until the 60-day implementation period is over, no one should be investigated or discharged under this discriminatory law. Certification and the implementation period must be wrapped up no later than the first quarter of 2011. The bottom line: for now, gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members must remain cautiously closeted.”

SLDN says LGBT servicemembers with questions should call 202-328-3244 ext. 100 to speak with a staff attorney.

For more on the process for repealing DADT, see this story from the Washington Post.

—  John Wright

Wounded gay Texas Marine: Amos ‘spit on me,’ and I wish Obama would ‘fire his ass on the spot’

Eric Alva

Former Marine Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, a gay wounded veteran from San Antonio, today responded to Marine Commandant Gen. James F Amos’ comments on Tuesday suggesting that repealing “don’t ask don’t tell” would lead to casualties.  Alva became the first casualty of the Iraq war in 2003 when his leg was blown off by a land mine. From The Advocate:

“He pretty much spit on me, my Purple Heart, and my 13 years of service,” Alva said of Amos Wednesday as the House of Representatives prepared to vote on a stand-alone repeal bill — one sponsored by Pennsylvania Rep. Patrick Murphy, a fellow Iraq War veteran who lost his reelection bid in November. “I would definitely ask Amos for a meeting to explain his comments, and I’d bring my Purple Heart with me.”

Responding to questions from reporters at the Pentagon, Amos, who was appointed to the position by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in June but is at odds with the White House on “don’t ask, don’t tell,” said Tuesday: “Mistakes and inattention or distractions costs Marines lives. … I don’t want to lose any Marines to the distraction. I don’t want to have any Marines that I’m visiting at Bethesda [National Naval Medical Center] with no legs be the result of any type of distraction.” (Read Stars and Stripes coverage of the remarks here.)

Alva, 39, called Amos’s behavior insubordinate and reminiscent of the conduct of another four-star general: Stanley A. McChrystal, who resigned under pressure in June after Rolling Stone published remarks attributed to Gen. McChrystal and his aides critical of senior administration officials.

“I wish Obama would invite [Amos] to the White House and fire his ass on the spot,” Alva told The Advocate.

—  John Wright

Pentagon report sets up Senate showdown on ‘don’t ask don’t tell’

LISA KEEN  |  Keen News Service

Defense Secretary Robert Gates sent mixed signals Tuesday, Nov. 30 in releasing the Pentagon’s long-awaited study about how to implement repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell.”

Gates said repeal “can and should be done,” but he urged Congress to consider the views of all-male combat units who expressed concern about negative consequences. He said the concerns of those combat units were “not an insurmountable barrier” to repealing the ban on openly gay people in the military, but said the military should be given “sufficient time” to exercise “an abundance of care and preparation” in rolling out that repeal. And neither he nor any other top Pentagon official were willing to give even a vague estimate of how much time would be sufficient.

But in a statement released Tuesday evening, President Barack Obama urged the Senate to act “as soon as possible,” saying he is “absolutely confident” troops “will adapt to this change and remain the best led, best trained, best equipped fighting force the world has ever known.”

The president reportedly spoke to Republican and Democratic leaders about DADT during a meeting at the White House on Monday to discuss a number of issues. Details of those conversations were not available.

Gates’ remarks and the report released by the Pentagon on Tuesday on how best to implement repeal of DADT will provide both proponents and opponents of repeal plenty of political ammunition once the Senate takes up the issue sometime this month.

The 256-page study is called the Report of the Comprehensive Review of the Issues Associated with a Repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The report includes 20 pages of recommendations, presented in essay form, and 112 pages discussing and illustrating the results of surveys conducted of servicemembers and their families. Most media reports focused on the survey results, but the recommendations have, perhaps, the greatest importance for the LGBT community. The most significant of the recommendations include:

• Issuing “an extensive set of new or revised standards of conduct” for servicemembers while in uniform, including for such matters as “public displays of affection,” dress and appearance, and harassment, and that those standards “apply to all Service members, regardless of sexual orientation”;

• That military law not add sexual orientation “alongside race, color, religion, sex, and national origin as a class eligible for various diversity programs or complaint resolution processes.” Instead, the report recommends DOD “make clear that sexual orientation may not, in and of itself, be a factor in accession, promotion, or other personnel decision-making.” Complaints regarding discrimination based on sexual orientation would be addressed through “mechanisms” available for complaints other than those involving race, color, sex, religion, or national origin — “namely, the chain of command … and other means as may be determined by the Services.”

• Repeal Article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice to the extent it prohibits consensual sodomy, regardless of whether same-sex or heterosexual;

• Amend the code to “ensure sexual orientation-neutral application” with regards to sexual offenses. For instance, Article 134 prohibiting adultery, would be rewritten to include a married female servicemember having sex with another woman who was not her spouse;

•  No separate housing or bathroom facilities for gay or lesbian servicemembers and no assignments of sleeping or housing facilities based on sexual orientation “except that commanders should retain the authority to alter … assignments on an individualized, case-by-case basis, in the interest of maintaining morale, good order, and discipline, and consistent with performance of mission”;

• No revision “at this time” of regulations to add same-sex committed relationships to the current definition of “family members” or “dependents” in regards to military benefits, such as housing, but to revisit the issue at a later date;

• Review benefits “that may, where justified from a policy, fiscal, and feasibility standpoint,” be revised to enable a servicemember to designate “whomever he or she wants as a beneficiary”;

• Evaluate requests for re-entry into the military from those servicemembers discharged under DADT “according to the same criteria as other former Service members seeking re-entry”; and

• No release from obligations of service for military personnel who oppose serving alongside gay and lesbian service members.

The survey part of the report indicates:

• 69 percent of servicemembers believed they had already served with someone they knew to be gay;

• 70 percent to 76 percent said repeal would have “a positive, a mixed, or no effect” on task cohesion; and 67 percent to 78 percent said it would have positive, mixed or no effect on “social cohesion”;

• 92 percent of those servicemembers who said they served alongside a gay person said they did not consider the gay servicemember’s presence to have created any problems for unit cohesion; and

• 26 percent said they would take a shower at a different time than a gay servicemember.

The report noted that the responses of Marines Combat Arms units (fighting forces on the ground) were “more negative” than the forces overall concerning how gay servicemembers would affect unit cohesion. Overall, 21 percent said gays in the unit would negatively affect their unit’s readiness, but while 43.5 percent of Marine Combat Arms said so.

Both Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen also underscored a need to move slowly and carefully to implement repeal, should Congress approve it. In doing so, Gates highlighted a finding that between 40 percent and 60 percent of all-male combat arms and special operations units predicted a negative effect of repeal on unit cohesion. He said this finding was a concern for him and for the chiefs of the branches of service. And he urged Congress to consider this in its deliberations.

But Gates said he did not consider that finding to be an “insurmountable barrier” and said he does believe repeal “can and should be done without posing a serious threat to military readiness.”

Even before the report was officially released at 2:15 Eastern time on Tuesday, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network said it expected the report to be “overwhelmingly positive” and “one of the best tools that repeal advocates can use” in the lame duck Congress.

The report will be the subject of two days of hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday and Friday, Dec. 2 and 3. Republican opponents of repeal, led by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., are expected to challenge the legitimacy of the study and to tweak out information within it to support their position against repealing the law.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who had been considered a potential vote for repeal, surprised many over the weekend when he began to parrot a criticism of the study that McCain raised in recent days — that the Pentagon studied “how” to repeal DADT, not “whether” to repeal it.

Gates rebuffed this criticism previously and again during today’s press conference.

“This report does provide a sound basis for making decisions on this law,” said Gates. “It’s hard for me to imagine you could come up with a more comprehensive approach.” More than 400,000 servicemembers responded to a survey, as did thousands of family members. And Mullen said data “is very compelling.”

But Graham also told Fox News Sunday on Nov. 28 that he doesn’t believe there is “anywhere near the votes” to repeal DADT “on the Republican side.”

Democrats don’t really need Republican votes to repeal DADT; it takes only 51 and, with Independents, they have 58. But many took Graham’s remarks to suggest that Republicans would stand together as a party to block the Senate from even considering the Defense Authorization bill that contains the DADT repeal language.

“I think we’ll be united in the lame duck,” said Graham of Republican senators. “… So I think in a lame duck setting, ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ is not going anywhere.

And that’s where the uncertainty lies: Will Democrats have 60 votes to break a Republican filibuster in order to begin deliberation on the FY 2011 Defense Authorization bill?

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said he expects McCain and others to try and thwart repeal. He said he was hopeful Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would be able to reach an agreement with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on some number of amendments either party could offer on the annual Defense Authorization bill which contains the repeal language. Among those amendments, said Sarvis, will almost certainly be one to strip the repeal language from the bill, but Sarvis said he does not believe there are enough votes to do that.

Sarvis also made clear during a telephone press conference with reporters Tuesday morning that his group is not going to put all its eggs in the lame duck basket.

Sarvis said his organization would — “early next week”— file at least one lawsuit in federal court in San Francisco to continue pressure for eliminating the ban on openly gay people in the military. He said the group would likely file two more lawsuits soon after that. Each lawsuit, he said, would represent the interests of different groups affected by the law — those on active duty, those who have been discharged and seek reinstatement, and those who would like to join the service.

Gates and Obama have both spoken out against lawsuits currently pending in the 9th Circuit seeking to challenge DADT — one from the Log Cabin Republicans (challenging the law on its face) and one from Air Force nurse Margaret Witt (challenging the law as applied). Both have been successful, thus far.

In an interview with ABC News, released Nov. 9, Gates said he thinks the end of DADT was “inevitable.”

“My hope, frankly,” he said, “is that … if we can make the case that having this struck down by the courts is the worst outcome, because it gives us no flexibility, that people will think I’m called a realist, a pragmatist. I’m looking at this realistically. This thing is gonna go, one way or the other.”

In the end, it may take more than just one showdown vote in the Senate. In addition to needing 60 votes to begin debate on the defense spending bill, SLDN’s Sarvis said Tuesday he expects Senate Democrats will need 60 votes to force a vote to end debate as well. Then a final version of the bill must be hammered out in a House-Senate conference committee and returned to both chambers for a final vote.

© 2010 Keen News Service

—  John Wright

Justice Department appeals lesbian’s reinstatement to Air Force

Witt to serve openly while legal, political battles over DADT continue

GENE JOHNSON | Associated Press

SEATTLE — A lesbian flight nurse discharged under “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy barring gays from serving openly can rejoin the Air Force Reserve, even as the government appeals a judge’s ruling that returned her to the job, her lawyers said Tuesday, Nov. 23.

U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton ruled in September that former Maj. Margaret Witt must be reinstated because her dismissal advanced no legitimate military goals and thus violated her constitutional rights.

The Justice Department appealed that ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday, its deadline for doing so.

But government lawyers did not ask the appeals judges to freeze the lower court’s ruling while the appeal proceeds — and Witt’s lawyers said that means she can be reinstated.

“I am thrilled to be able to serve in the Air Force again,” Witt said in a written statement released by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington state. “The men and women in the unit are like family members to me, and I’ve been waiting a long time to rejoin them.”

Witt was suspended in 2004 and subsequently discharged after the Air Force learned she had been in a long-term relationship with a civilian woman. She sued to get her job back.

Leighton initially upheld her firing, but in 2008 a three-judge 9th Circuit panel said military members could not be discharged under “don’t ask” unless their dismissal furthered military goals such as troop morale or unit cohesion. It sent the case back to Leighton, who ruled that Witt’s firing actually hurt morale in her unit.

If Witt is reinstated, she would be serving openly at a time when the military’s policy on gays is in disarray. President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates want to end the ban, but say it should be done through Congress, not the courts. A federal judge in California has declared the 1993 “don’t ask, don’t tell” law unconstitutional — a ruling the Justice Department is also appealing — and in the meantime, the Pentagon has issued new guidelines that have drastically cut the numbers of gays being dismissed under the policy.

The Pentagon plans to release a monthslong study Tuesday, Nov. 30 on how lifting the gay service ban would affect the armed forces.

The Justice Department did not immediately say why it did not seek a stay of Leighton’s ruling. The Air Force Reserve at Joint Base Lewis-McChord south of Seattle, where Witt was based, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

“It’s indicative of the effort the White House is making to thread the needle on ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,”’ said Chris Neff, deputy executive director of the Palm Center, a pro-repeal think tank based at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “They’re holding the line that they need to continue to appeal these, but they are taking an extra measure to address this policy and try to make it moot. This is the first White House that has really made an effort to keep gays in the military.”

Despite being excited to rejoin the Air Force, Witt said she was disappointed the government was appealing at all.

Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said the department was simply defending the law, as it historically does when acts of Congress are challenged. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs insisted that the appeal shows why it’s important for the Senate to repeal the “misguided policy” quickly — before a new Congress takes over, with a slimmer Democratic majority in the Senate.

“This filing in no way diminishes the president’s — and his administration’s — firm commitment to achieving a legislative repeal of DADT this year,” Gibbs said in an e-mailed statement.

“Don’t ask” prohibits the military from asking about the sexual orientation of service members, but allows the discharge of those who acknowledge being gay or are discovered to be engaging in homosexual activity.

—  John Wright

Pentagon: No gays were discharged in past month

LISA LEFF | Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — No U.S. service members have been discharged for being openly gay in the month since the Defense Department adopted new rules surrounding the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, a Pentagon spokeswoman said Monday, Nov. 22.

Under new rules adopted Oct. 21, Defense Secretary Robert Gates put authority for signing off on dismissals in the hands of the three service secretaries.

Before then, any commanding officer at a rank equivalent to a one-star general could discharge gay enlisted personnel under the 1993 law that prohibits gays from serving openly in uniform.

Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia Smith told The Associated Press that no discharges have been approved since Oct. 21.

Smith did not know if the absence of recent discharges was related to the new separation procedures. The Pentagon has not compiled monthly discharge figures for any other months this year, she said.

Based on historical trends, however, it appears the change, as well as moves by Gates and President Barack Obama to get Congress to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell,” has caused discharge rates to fall dramatically, said Aaron Belkin, executive director of Palm Center, a pro-repeal think tank based at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

“Statistically, it would be extremely unlikely if we had a month in which there were no gay discharges,” Belkin said, noting that 428 gay and lesbian service members were honorably discharged under the ban in 2009.

A month without “don’t ask, don’t tell” discharges was welcome news, said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. Still, the organization continues to hear daily from military personnel who are under investigation for being gay and face the possibility of being fired.

“We have clients who are still under investigation, who are still having to respond, and in fact we have a client under investigation right now under suicide watch,” Sarvis said. “So ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ has not gone away.”

Gates announced the change requiring the top civilian officials with the armed forces to personally approve “don’t ask, don’t tell” discharges after a federal judge in California ordered the military to immediately stop enforcing its ban on openly gay troops, declaring the 17-year-old policy unconstitutional.

An appeals court subsequently froze the judge’s order until it could consider the broader constitutional issues in the case.

Putting responsibility for firing gay personnel in the hands of the three service secretaries was not designed to slow the rate of discharges, Gates said at the time. Rather, concentrating that authority was meant to ensure uniformity and care in enforcement at a time of legal uncertainty, he said in a memo outlining the new rules.

Gates since has urged the Senate to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” before a new Congress takes office in January. He said this week he plans to release a monthslong study on how lifting the gay service ban would affect the armed forces and could be carried out on Nov. 30.

—  John Wright

Leaked study results support DADT repeal

FUTURE MILITARY | Members of a Dallas-area Jr. ROTC group march in formation, carrying U.S. flags, during Dallas’ annual Veterans Day Parade Thursday morning, Nov. 11. According to information leaked to The Washington Post earlier this week, a Pentagon report studying attitudes of current members of the military, a large majority don’t believe repealing ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ would harm military readiness. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

LISA KEEN  |  Keen News Service

Repealing “don’t ask don’t tell” poses only minimal risk to current war efforts, according to results from a 370-page Pentagon study that were leaked to the Washington Post.

According to an article published on the Post’s website late Wednesday, sources said the study results indicate more than 70 percent of 400,000 servicemembers and 150,000 military spouses surveyed said the effect of DADT repeal would be positive, mixed or nonexistent. The survey found that a majority had no strong objections, though a significant minority is opposed. But the study’s authors reportedly concluded that objections to serving alongside openly gay colleagues would drop over time. And it says that servicemembers who object to sharing a room or shower with openly gay troops should be handled on a case-by-case basis.

Openly gay Air Force veteran David Guy-Gainer of Forest Hill called the report “a Veterans Day gift” for LGBT current and former servicemembers.

Guy-Gainer is a retired Air Force chief master sergeant and a board member for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. He had just returned from a Veterans Day breakfast in Tarrant County when he spoke to Dallas Voice on Thursday, Nov. 11.

“I am thrilled. It’s wonderful. I can’t think of a better gift for Veterans Day,” he said.

The story was published just hours after the Obama administration filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court asking that the military be allowed to continue enforcing DADT while a lower court ruling declaring the policy unconstitutional makes its way through the appeals process.

Acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Kumar Katyal argued that the stay is necessary because the injunction would cause “the government the kind of irreparable injury that routinely forms the basis for a stay pending appeal.”

U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Phillips issued an injunction against enforcement of DADT last month in the wake of her earlier ruling, in a case brought by Log Cabin Republicans, that DADT is unconstitutional. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay of Phillips’ injunction, and Log Cabin Republicans appealed that stay to the Supreme Court.

The Post article is based on information provided to the newspaper from two people “familiar with a draft of the report,” according to reporters Ed O’Keefe and Greg Jaffe. The sources are not identified in the article. Asked if the reporters could convey a request from Keen News for follow-up, O’Keefe said Thursday morning that the sources “insisted we not contact them again.”

The report will almost certainly affect the momentum for repealing DADT during the lame-duck Congress, as the potential for breaking a Republican-led filibuster hinges largely on 10 senators who said in September that they did not want to vote on the issue until the Pentagon study was available. The study is due to President Barack Obama by Dec. 1.

“These results confirm what those of us who actually know the modern military, especially the rank and file troops, have said all along: The men and women of America’s armed forces are professionals who are capable of handling this policy change,” said Alexander Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United and a former U.S. Army Human Intelligence Collector who was discharged under the law in 2002. “In light of these findings, as well as the Secretary of Defense’s recent call for Senate action on ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ during the lame duck session, there is no longer any excuse for failing to bring the defense authorization bill back up during the first week of the post-election legislative session.”

Aubrey Sarvis, exeutive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said servicemembers who were polled for the study reflect how most Americans feel about open service — ”It’s no big deal, let’s move on and get the job done.”

“The military has a proud tradition of adjusting to change and becoming stronger for it. Ending ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ will be no different,” Sarvis said. “It’s clear a majority of Americans in both the military and civilian spheres agree that ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ is outdated and should go. Congress needs to catch up and the Senate should immediately act on repeal when it returns to Washington next week. No one should be surprised if a vocal minority, for a short window, might object, as a minority did when segregation in the ranks ended and women were admitted to the service academies. In the military you get over your objections or you get out.”

The Post said its sources provided details about “a draft” of the study that was distributed late last week to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, and leaders — both civilian and uniformed — of the four military branches.

The study reportedly does not recommend any significant changes to military housing or benefits, saying that the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prohibits recognition of same-sex spouses.

Although many political observers have suggested there is little to no chance that the lame-duck Congress will pass a defense authorization bill this year with the DADT repeal language intact, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) told the Washington Blade this week that “Democrats are going to try very hard” to do so.

And in a telephone conference call with reporters Wednesday, Winnie Stachelberg, a key participant in meetings with the White House on the issue, said she thinks the strong statements from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer in recent days have help put the repeal effort “in a solid position” during the lame-duck session of Congress.

Stachelberg, who is a vice president at the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, said pro-repeal activists need to focus on 10 senators who indicated during debate in September that they wanted to hear from the Pentagon study before taking a position on repeal. Those 10 include Republicans Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, John McCain of Arizona, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Olympia Snowe of Maine and George Voinovich of Ohio. They also include Democrat Jim Webb of Virginia, as well as two senators who will not take their seats until the new Congress convenes in January — Republican Mark Kirk of Illinois, whose election is still pending, and Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

The Human Rights Campaign also launched a grassroots campaign Monday to put pressure on senators from eight key states to support breaking the filibuster on DADT. Those states are Alaska, Arkansas, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia.

The House passed DADT repeal language in its version of the FY 2011 defense authorization bill last May, but the Senate was unable to take up a similar version of the bill in September when Republicans led a filibuster aimed primarily at DADT repeal.

Some unsourced reports suggested last week that Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a supporter of repeal, was discussing with Sen. McCain the possibility of stripping DADT repeal from the bill. But neither senator confirmed that report and, with unsourced reports, it’s hard to know what is really being discussed and what is simply a rumor being spread by one side or the other to create an appearance of inevitability to advance their own interests.

Stachelberg said Wednesday she believes the only real objections surrounding DADT repeal now are ones over procedure — how and when to repeal it, not substance. But she acknowledged that Congress must vote repeal this year because “next year would be very grim.”

Copyright ©2010 Keen News Service. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

—  John Wright

‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ injunction now up to judge

JULIE WATSON  |  Associated Press

SAN DIEGO — U.S. government lawyers are trying to stop a federal judge from issuing an injunction that would immediately do what President Obama has yet to accomplish so far in his first term: Halt the military’s ban on openly gay troops.

Now it is up to U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Phillips to decide if she is willing to do that.

The White House says the legal filing Thursday, Sept. 23 by the U.S. Department of Justice attorneys in a federal court in Riverside follows government procedure by defending an act of Congress that is being challenged, but it does not detract from the president’s efforts to get ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ repealed.

“This filing in no way diminishes the president’s firm commitment to achieve a legislative repeal of DADT — indeed, it clearly shows why Congress must act to end this misguided policy,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press.

Phillips declared the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy unconstitutional in her ruling Sept. 9 following a three-week, non-jury trial and said she would issue a nationwide order to stop the ban. She asked both sides for input first.

The Log Cabin Republicans, the gay rights organization that filed the lawsuit to stop the ban’s enforcement, wants her to issue an order that would stop the policy from being used to discharge any U.S. military personnel anywhere in the world.

Their attorney, Dan Woods, called the Department of Justice’s objections to the possible injunction hypocritical. He said the administration should be seizing the opportunity to let a judge do what politics has not been able to do.

“It’s sad and disappointing that the administration would file such a document days after it urged Congress to repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,”’ Woods said.

In their court filing Thursday, U.S. Department of Justice attorneys argued the possible move would be “untenable” and that Phillips would be overstepping her bounds by halting a policy under debate in Congress.

Instead, she should limit any injunction to the 19,000 members of the Log Cabin Republicans, which includes current and former military personnel, the lawyers said.

“A court should not compel the executive to implement an immediate cessation of the 17-year-old policy without regard for any effect such an abrupt change might have on the military’s operations, particularly at a time when the military is engaged in combat operations and other demanding military activities around the globe,” federal attorneys said in their objection.

The “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy prohibits the military from asking about the sexual orientation of service members. Under the 1993 policy, service men and women who acknowledge being gay or are discovered engaging in homosexual activity, even in the privacy of their own homes off base, are subject to discharge.

In her ruling, Phillips said the policy doesn’t help military readiness and instead has a “direct and deleterious effect” on the armed services by hurting recruiting during wartime and requiring the discharge of service members with critical skills and training.

—  John Wright

Lesbian seeks reinstatement to Air Force; DADT opponents hope for another big legal victory

GENE JOHNSON | Associated Press

SEATTLE — Opponents of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy against gays serving in the military were hoping for another major legal victory as a federal trial began Monday, Sept. 13 over whether to reinstate a lesbian flight nurse discharged from the Air Force Reserve.

The trial comes just days after a federal judge in California declared “don’t ask, don’t tell” an unconstitutional violation of the due process and free speech rights of gays and lesbians. While the ruling does not affect the legal issues in the case of former Maj. Margaret Witt, gay rights activists believe a victory — and her reinstatement — could help build momentum for repealing the policy.

“There’s already political momentum to do something to repeal this unfair statute,” said Aaron Caplan, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles who is on Witt’s legal team. “Judicial opinions from multiple jurisdictions saying there’s a constitutional problem with this ought to encourage Congress to act more swiftly.”

Witt was a member of a squadron based at McChord Air Force Base near Tacoma when she was suspended in 2004 and honorably discharged. She challenged the constitutionality of her dismissal, and a federal appeals court panel ruled in 2008 that the military could not discharge service members for being gay unless it proved that the firing furthered military readiness.

The case was sent back to U.S. District Court in Tacoma for Judge Robert Leighton to determine whether Witt’s firing met that standard. Several of Witt’s former colleagues are expected to testify that she was an excellent nurse, and it was her dismissal — not her sexual orientation — that caused morale problems in the unit.

Justice Department lawyers representing the Air Force note that the case has put them in the position of defending a law neither the president nor the department itself believes is good policy. Defense Secretary Robert Gates also favors repealing the 1993 law, which prohibits the military from asking about the sexual orientation of service members but allows the discharge of those who acknowledge being gay or are discovered to be engaging in homosexual activity.

Government lawyers nevertheless insist Witt’s firing was justified — and that the panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals did not know the extent of her conduct when it sided with her in 2008. That conduct included a long-term relationship with a civilian woman, an affair with a woman who was married at the time and two earlier relationships with fellow servicewomen, Witt acknowledged in a deposition in May.

It was a 2004 e-mail from the husband of the married woman to the Air Force chief of staff, Gen. John Jumper, that prompted the investigation into Witt’s sexuality.

Witt acknowledged the extramarital affair was not consistent with good “officership.” She also said she told two members of her unit about her orientation — forcing them to choose between loyalty to Witt and Air Force policy, the Air Force argues.

For those reasons, it says, Witt’s firing did further military goals, even if 19 current and former members of Witt’s unit have submitted declarations saying they had no problem serving with her.

“Those co-workers are not military commanders, and the military cannot operate by a unit referendum process in which disciplinary policies and outcomes are determined by the individual opinions of a few unit members,” Justice Department attorney Peter J. Phipps wrote in a court filing.

The Air Force also says Witt can’t be reinstated because she no longer meets Air Force nursing requirements, something Witt’s attorneys dispute.

Witt’s attorneys, led by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, say that it is the Air Force’s burden to prove that her reinstatement would be a detriment to unit cohesion. And, ACLU attorney Sarah Dunne says, the Air Force has provided no such evidence.

Gen. Charles E. Stenner Jr., an expert witness for the government, said in a deposition that he didn’t know if Witt’s reinstatement would negatively affect military functions, and the current commander of Witt’s unit, Col. Janette Moore-Harbert, acknowledged having no evidence to that effect.

The trial is expected to last seven days. Meanwhile, the Senate could take up a defense bill passed by the House that includes a provision to end “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

—  John Wright