By Bob Roehr
WASHINGTON – The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network kicked off their lobby days with an upbeat report of progress made over the last six months. Former U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Carol Moseley Braun offered a moving keynote address at their annual dinner on May 7.
C. Dixon Osburn said one of the highlights is the introduction of the Military Readiness Act of 2005 (HR 1059) to repeal the antigay policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. Their goal had been to gain 40 cosponsors within the first year of introduction; that number has already reached 83.
He pointed to comments made by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida), a conservative Cuban-American and cosponsor, as illustrative of his optimism. Ros-Lehtinen told the Miami Herald, “We investigate people, bring them up on charges, basically wreck their lives. We should be thanking them.”
Osburn said this is the right time to push for repeal of the ban, ÒBecause America needs us, America supports us, and we are already doing the job. “The latest polls show that 56 percent of the country supports repealing DADT, and a majority of junior officers within the military have come around as well.”
Last December SLDN initiated the other major challenge to DADT when it filed a lawsuit in federal court in Boston. The case, known as Cook v. Rumsfeld, has gone through preliminary filings of arguments.
In a separate interview, SLDN spokesman Steve Ralls said they will have three weeks notice on the date for oral arguments. The judge is likely to set that date later this month. A decision on the case is not likely before the fall.
Retired Brigadier General Evelyn ‘Pat’ Foote is a member of SLDN’s advisory board. She is sure that she served with many LGBT service members, “But you don’t ask them their sexual orientation because that is inconsequential. It only becomes consequential when men and women of any sexual persuasion bring their conduct to the workplace or to the barracks. So I don’t understand what the problem is.”
“Any extra discrimination that has to do with gender, or race, or sexual orientation is a fraud on this nation,” Foote said. ÒI hope we can try and screw into the brains of Congress and the DoD (Department of Defense), the reality that we as Americans take advantage of this tremendous diversity and meld it into a force that serves all of us.”
Syndicated Detroit News columnist Deb Price regaled the audience with tales of visiting the small town of Perry, Georgia, the home of then Sen. Sam Nunn, during the debate on DADT in 1993. Democrat Nunn led the fight to impose the gay ban.
She reminded them that Nunn was onto something when he linked gays serving in the military and same-sex marriage. “Those are the two things [the homophobes] donÕt want us to have, because then they have to respect us…The fear is that we will have those two things, and people will come to understand and welcome us, which is what is happening.”
Price looked at the number of marriages conducted in Provincetown, Massachusetts in all of 2004, including the seven and a half months in which gays were allowed to marry. There were 863 marriages in the town; 24 were straight. She is optimistic that victory on both counts is near.
Former Sen. Carol Mosley Braun has broken many barriers of gender and race within her illustrious career. She placed the struggle of gays for equality squarely within those struggles, saying, ÒThe liberation of the human spirit is the real core of the American dream.
She outlined how at the founding of this country, Òthe vast majority [of Americans] could not participate in Thomas Jefferson’s stirring vision of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Over time, we have moved as a nation in the direction of America as good as its promise.
“Everyone is better off when we tap the talent and contributions of all of the people and not just some of them. Discrimination, exclusion, racism, sexism, homophobia, all of these are evils that affect not only the person who suffers second class citizenship, these are evils that drain capacity from our society as a whole.”
Braun said,”Our military will be better able to defend our values abroad when we stand firm in defense of them here at home.Ó She thanked the audience Òfor the chance to come together and celebrate the prospect of an America as good as its promise.”