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Meehan, Frank Demand Gays In Military

From the New York Times owned and operated Boston Globe:

Meehan targeting ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’

By Rick Klein, Globe Staff | November 18, 2006

WASHINGTON — Two leading House Democrats said yesterday that they intend to reverse the 13-year-old "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy on gays and lesbians in the military when Congress comes under Democratic control in January.

Representative Martin T. Meehan, a Lowell Democrat, said he plans to hold congressional hearings early next year of the House Armed Services Subcommittee, which he is likely to chair, on a bill that would allow homosexuals to serve in the armed forces.

"We will have hearings, and then we can have an honest dialogue with members of Congress," Meehan said.

"I believe, and have always believed, that once people see the facts, it will become clear that this is a policy that actually hurts national security and hurts the military."

Meehan said the incoming Armed Services Committee chairman, Representative Ike Skelton of Missouri, is considering him to lead the new subcommittee on oversight. Meehan would bring the issue before his subcommittee and could press for the full committee to examine it as well.

Meehan’s proposed change was backed yesterday by Representative Barney Frank, a Newton Democrat who is openly gay.

The military is stretched thin and scrambling to fill the ranks during wartime, and studies suggest that the sexual orientation policy is depriving the armed forces of people who have much-needed skills — including the ability to speak foreign languages. And a study backed by the University of California, Santa Barbara showed that the Pentagon spent $363.8 million to train and replace the nearly 10,000 people it discharged during the policy’s first decade.

Yet the push to end "don’t ask, don’t tell" could send the new Democratic-majority Congress into a political minefield. The early days of Bill Clinton’s presidency were consumed by the issue of gays in the military, and he was forced to renege on a promise to allow gays to serve openly, instead supporting the "don’t ask, don’t tell" compromise that Congress approved.

The policy, which became law in 1993, bans the military from investigating the sexuality of anyone in uniform, but it prohibits service members from disclosing their sexual orientation ; engaging in "homosexual conduct" is grounds for discharge.

Republicans, some Democrats, and the Pentagon are likely to fight Meehan’s plan. They argue that "don’t ask, don’t tell" protects morale and maintains the cohesion of military units.

Democrats would be better off shelving the issue until legislative hearings on broader military personnel issues, such as expansion of the recruitment field and retention of soldiers, said Michael O’Hanlon, a defense specialist at the liberal Brookings Institution.

"You don’t want it to be ‘Democrats against the military,’ " O’Hanlon said. "People don’t like the military being the laboratory for these sort of things. This is not the same kind of civil rights issue as racial integration. "

Skelton, the incoming chairman, supports the current "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy, but is willing to give his subcommittee chairmen some autonomy, according to spokeswoman Loren Dealy.

Skelton is planning to name his subcommittee chairmen in January, and Dealy said she is not aware of any promises he may have made to individual members.

She added that Skelton’s agenda for early next year — oversight of the Pentagon, shaping policies in Iraq and Afghanistan, and addressing military equipment readiness — does not include the issue of gays in the military, though he won’t rule it out.

Still, gay-rights advocates are eager to end what they view as a discriminatory policy. Twelve years of Republican rule in Congress made it next to impossible to reexamine the policy.

Frank cited a report last year that found that in the past decade, the military had dismissed at least 322 service members with critical foreign language skills because of the "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy.

"The policy of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell, and don’t translate’ is especially damaging," Frank said yesterday in a C-SPAN interview.

Meehan filed his bill early last year and collected 121 cosponsors; he’ll need 218 signatures to get it passed. Signers so far include incoming House speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and two other members of her leadership team, Representative John Larson of Connecticut and Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois.

All members of the Massachusetts House delegation support the measure.

But Meehan got just six House Republicans to sign — three of whom won’t return to Congress next year.

Representative Duncan Hunter, Republican of California and the current Armed Services Committee chairman, refused to allow a hearing on Meehan’s bill . Hunter, who will be the top Republican on the committee next year and is considering a run for the White House, has said he doesn’t want gays and lesbians serving in the military. His office did not return calls yesterday.

Even those who strongly support ending "don’t ask, don’t tell" acknowledge they probably don’t have the votes to change the policy, but hearings would be a first and important step toward educating Congress and the public, said Steve Ralls, a spokesman for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a nonprofit group that is working to end the policy.

"There’s a lot of work to be done, a lot of education to be done," Ralls said.

On the campaign trail, some GOP candidates told voters that putting Democrats in charge would lead to a "radical, homosexual agenda" on Capitol Hill.

Democrats have carefully laid out a centrist path for next year; their "Six for ’06" list of legislative priorities does not include anything that affects gay rights.

Frank, likely to become chairman of the Financial Services Committee, said Democrats could pass a number of bills that would expand gay rights.

Aside from ending "don’t ask, don’t tell," he said, Democrats want to impose federal penalties for hate crimes aimed at gays, lesbians, and transgendered people and to outlaw workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Perhaps the most important effect of the majority shift, Frank added, is that the GOP’s plan to ban gay marriage through a constitutional amendment is dead.

That would be Bill Clinton’s "don’t ask, don’t tell."

Among other things, serving openly as homosexuals might not go over too big in the Middle East. But let’s let the other soldiers serving beside them worry about that.

But this certainly is a great time to push this through (so to speak), after the DNC has shown how good it is at blackmailing homosexuals who might oppose them. Or even anyone who might know homosexuals.

It’s a good thing our newly Democrat Congress has its priorities — and high-minded principals.

This article was posted by Steve on Saturday, November 18th, 2006. Comments are currently closed.

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