Presidential hopefuls on both sides of the political aisle talking about gays, morality and the military after general’s comments are publicized
Presidential contenders from both sides of the political aisle have weighed in although some reluctantly on the issue of gays in the military since March 12 when Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he believes homosexuality is immoral and that same-gender sex acts are on the same level as adultery.
Pace said he does not think the military should condone immoral acts and therefore that the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy which bans gays and lesbians from serving openly should not be repealed.
Democratic presidential hopefuls have all said Pace is wrong on both counts. The Republican candidates have presented a less united front. Most have said they support the policy although not necessarily Pace’s views on the immorality of homosexuality. At least one, however, said he agrees with the general on both issues.
Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois widely considered the leading Democrats in the 2008 presidential race drew criticism early on in the days after Pace’s remarks when they appeared to sidestep the question of whether they agreed with Pace on homosexuality being immoral.
By March 15, however, both Clinton and Obama had issued statements clarifying their opposition to Pace’s statements and to “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Clinton told ABC news on March 14 that “it’s for others to conclude” whether homosexuality is immoral. But the next day, saying that she had heard from gay and lesbian friends that her answer sounded evasive, Clinton issued a statement saying, “I should have echoed my colleague Sen. John Warner’s statement forcefully stating that homosexuality is not immoral, because that is what I believe.”
Obama did not answer directly when first asked on March 14 to comment on Pace’s remarks. But in a statement issued the following day he said: “I do not agree with Gen. Pace that homosexuality is immoral. Attempts to divide people like this have consumed too much of our politics over the past six years.”
Both Clinton and Obama said they believe gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly in the military. Another Democratic frontrunner, John Edwards, has also said he opposes “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Lesser-known candidates Christopher Dodd and Bill Richardson both criticized Pace’s remarks and said they believe the military’s gay ban should be repealed.
Dodd, a U.S. senator from Connecticut, said Pace’s remark equating homosexuality with immorality was “a ridiculous statement to make.”
“I don’t know if we can repeal [“Don’t ask, don’t tell] or not, but it seems to me that at a time when we need talented people to serve in our military, setting up barriers like that for those who might serve, I think is wrong,” Dodd said March 17 while visiting a fire station in Hampton, N.H.
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said March 15 that Gen. Pace shouldn’t have included his personal beliefs in the discussion about the military’s policy.
He said the general’s comments were “unfortunate,” and that the Bush administration should publicly reject them.
Richardson also pointed out that he had voted against “Don’t ask, don’t tell” when he served in Congress and that he still opposed the policy.
“People should not be judged based on their sexual orientation. Throughout my career I have fought for equal rights and against discrimination of any kind,” Richardson said.
He added that he supports civil unions for gays and lesbians and that he had signed into law legislation in New Mexico extending civil rights protections based on sexual orientation.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a leading Republican candidate, would not discuss his opinions on whether homosexuality is immoral, but did say Pace was wrong to discuss the issue.
He also said he still backs “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”
“It’s working,” McCain said of the policy.
Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, has already come under fire from both sides for abandoning earlier support for gay rights to take a more conservative bent as he launched his presidential campaign.
Appearing last week on “Larry King Live,” Romney said Pace’s comments were “inappropriate for public discourse.”
“He can believe what he wants to, that’s the great thing about American believe in what you want. But in a governmental setting, the right way to go is to show more of an outpouring of tolerance,” Romney said on the talk show.
He also said he did not think the military’s gay ban made a lot of sense, but added that he would not change the policy now.
Sen. Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican who appears to be the religious right’s favorite so far in the presidential race, said criticism of Pace and his comments are “both unfair and unfortunate.”
Brownback said the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is “an appropriate policy.”
“We should not expect someone as qualified, accomplished and articulate as Gen. Pace to lack personal views on important moral issues,” Brownback said.
“In fact,” he added, “we should expect that anyone entrusted with such great responsibility will have strong moral views.”
Brownback said he does not believe that homosexuality is immoral, but he does believe same-gender sex acts are.
“I’m a Catholic and the church has clear teachings on this,” he said.
Brownback said he had written a letter to President Bush in support of Pace, saying that “personal moral beliefs” should not disqualify anyone from military leadership.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 23, 2007