by Bob Roehr
A bill to repeal the anti-gay military policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was reintroduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on Feb. 28. The lead sponsor is Rep. Marty Meehan (D-Mass.) and there are 109 original co-sponsors, including three Republicans.
It is officially known as the Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2007 (HR 1246). A companion bill is expected to be introduced in the Senate in March.
“I have worked in Congress to fight this policy because I believe that for more than a decade now it has undermined our national security interests,” Meehan said at a Capitol Hill news conference introducing the measure.
Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) called the policy “foolish and cruel.”
Attending the news conference was Sgt. Eric Alva, the first soldier seriously wounded in the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Alva publicly came out as gay, and is in support of changing the policy.
Alva, 36, was a 12-year veteran of the Marines when he stepped on a landmine in Iraq, losing his right leg. He was awarded the Purple Heart and was visited by President and Laura Bush, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld during his stay at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He later appeared on Oprah and in numerous media stories.
“Any Americans willing to serve their country shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not the government will give them fair and equal treatment when they return home,” said Alva. He recounted that most of his buddies in the Marines knew that he was gay and it was never an issue for them.
“Eric’s voice represents the sacrifice of thousands of gay and lesbian service members fighting for the safety and freedom of all Americans. We believe his story should help move this issue forward and educate Congress as to why it’s so important to lift the discriminatory ban that compromises our nation’s security,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign.
“Given our military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the recruiting woes our armed forces face, and the quality of troops being dismissed under the law, Congressman Meehan’s legislation is more important than ever,” said C. Dixon Osburn, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.
The organization also released its annual report on the number of persons discharged under DADT. In fiscal year 2005, the most recent for which data is available for, 742 men and women were kicked out. That included 49 medical personnel, 40 law enforcement officers, and 14 intelligence officers, all of which are in short supply in the military.
In related news, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) blasted Defense Secretary Robert Gates for refusing Wyden’s request to respond to criticism of the policy and inform the Senator of any positive effect it has had on the military and the nation’s defense.
“The Pentagon’s refusal to directly answer my questions appears to confirm that there is no military reason for the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy,” Wyden said. “The contention that this issue should not be addressed in a time of war is wrong-headed and counter-productive.”