By Bob Roehr
The Pentagon’s continued attempt to stigmatize gays has brought a rebuke from a member of Congress and the nation’s leading associations of mental health professionals.
The story began in June of this year when an academic researcher discovered an old, apparently forgotten but still current Department of Defense instruction that classified homosexuality as a mental illness.
House Rep. Marty Meehan, D-Mass., the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Psychological Association challenged the validity of such language because the Psychiatric Association declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1973.
The Department of Defense revised the instructions to include being gay under a listing of “conditions, circumstances and defects,” along with bedwetting, alcoholism, personality disorders, mental retardation, and repeated venereal disease infections.
So the three wrote back to the Pentagon on the week of November 13, seeking further clarification. “It is my strong belief that homosexuality is in no way a defect and that there is no scientific reason to include it in such a list,” said Meehan.
The Psychological Association said, “Because homosexuality is not a defect of a developmental nature, but could be construed as one by its inclusion in this section, we respectfully request that it be removed from the section, or that the section be parsed out in a way that is accurate and clear.”
“That the Pentagon would classify homosexuality this way in 2006 may raise questions about its motives or understanding of gay and lesbian service members,” said Aaron Belkin, director of the Michael D. Palm Center. The Center is housed at the University of California, Santa Barbara and focuses on issues of gays in the military.
Congressman Meehan is the lead sponsor of a bill to repeal the antigay policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He told the Boston Globe he intends to hold hearings on the bill early in 2007, once Democrats take control of that chamber. “We will have hearings, and then we can have an honest dialog with members of Congress.”
As the chairman of a subcommittee of the Armed Services Committee that is likely to be created, he would have the authority to call such hearings.
The chairman of the full committee, Ike Skelton, does not support repeal at this time, and more conservative members tend to gravitate to Armed Services. So, even with Democratic control of Congress, the likelihood of passage out of committee is low.
Most observers believe that the Democrats will not bring repeal to a vote before the 2008 elections for fear that Republicans would use it against them during the campaign. Repeal also is most likely to pass as part of larger reform of the military rather than as a stand alone bill, and no such bill is on the near horizon.
Another wild card is that ranking Democrat Rep. Charles Rangel reiterated his commitment to reinstate the draft during an appearance on the Sunday talk show “Face the Nation.” A similar proposal by Rangel was defeated 402 to 2 in 2003. But with the war in Iraq dragging on, who knows what the vote would go today.
On Nov. 14, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network filed an appeal in the case of Cook v. Rumsfeld, the leading legal challenge to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”