by Bob Roehr
Repeal of the anti-gay military policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has a new champion in the halls of Congress. Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Penn.) agreed last week to take over as lead sponsor of the legislation.
He faced reporters at the National Press Club on July 8 at the launch of a national tour by LGBT vets and their straight allies to build support for repeal. The effort is known as “Voices of Honor: A Generation Under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.'”
The baby-faced Murphy, seemingly not long removed from his altar boy past, served in Iraq with the 82nd Airborne Division and taught constitutional law at West Point. He aggressively took on supporters of DADT at a congressional hearing last year and showed a firm determination to repeal the policy as soon as possible.
“Our troops are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and are stretched dangerously thin,” Murphy said. The 13,000 discharges under DADT “are the equivalent of three and a half combat brigades … The policy is not working for our armed services and it hurts our national security.”
“To remove honorable, talented and committed Americans from serving in our military is contrary to the values that our military holds dear.”
He noted that American attitudes have changed towards gays and lesbians. Polls show that more than two-thirds support allowing gays to serve openly in the armed forces. The percentage is even higher “among the age bracket that we are recruiting.”
Murphy said Congress passed DADT and it is their responsibility to repeal it. He was encouraged by the fact that House Armed Services Committee chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) recently committed to holding a full committee hearing on repeal later this year. The earlier hearing had been in a subcommittee.
He said when many of his colleagues come to realize that it costs about $60,000 to recruit and put a single soldier through basic training, then they start to see the policy in a different light. Many have told him that while they will not join as one of the current 151 cosponsors, they will vote for repeal.
Murphy does not believe there will be problems implementing a repeal once it is passed. He said, “Our military will do what is asked of them … They will salute the flag and perform the mission given to them … It is not rocket science, it is treating people with honor and dignity, and they are already doing that.”
He said President Obama has been very clear: “Give me a bill and I’ll sign it.”
Murphy wants to proceed as quickly as possible but he refused to state a timetable, saying, “I’m not the Speaker of the House, I can’t put it on the docket.”
He also sidestepped a question on the recent decision by the Rules Committee not to allow repeal as an amendment on a military authorization bill. He is not a member of that committee and deferred to chairman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.).
“I cannot tell you how long this is going to take,” Murphy said. “All I can tell you is that paratroopers don’t quit, and paratroopers get the job done.”
Murphy has foregone wearing the lapel pin that identifies him as a congressman in order to wear a pin of the 82nd Airborne, in honor of the 19 comrades who died in Iraq.
Voices of honor
Also speaking at the news conference were some of the vets who will be hitting the ground over the next two months to tell their stories of living under DADT.
Alex Nicholson, executive director of the LGBT vets group Servicemembers United, said he was forced out of the Army two months after 9/11, despite the fact that he was a human intelligence officer who spoke five languages, including Arabic.
Marine Sgt. Eric Alva, the first soldier wounded in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, lost his leg in service to his country. He subsequently came out publicly as gay. He said, “When I went to fight the war on terrorism, it was for the rights and freedoms of every single person in this country, not just selected individuals.”
Genevieve Chase is a straight ally who served in Afghanistan and is executive director of American Women Veterans. “I trained and served with countless gays and lesbians;” those who chose to be open about their sexual orientation had absolutely no impact on unit cohesion.”
She added, “Dishonesty within our ranks is what destroys the cohesion of our armed forces and our team.”