New Chance for Repeal

DADT repeal gets new life with House and Senate standalone bills after Senate vote fails, but Marine Corps commandant strikes back with concerns about loss of life

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters on Dec. 14, ”Today Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.) is introducing a new standalone bill to allow for repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ and I am proud to join him as the lead co-sponsor.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, meanwhile, announced via Twitter on Dec. 14 that the House would vote on the bill on Dec. 15.

The bill, which was to be voted on after the Metro Weekly print deadline, is to be identical to S. 4023 – the stand-alone DADT repeal bill introduced by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) – which has more than 40 co-sponsors as of Dec. 14. If passed without amendment, the effort would eliminate the need for a conference committee to sort out the differences between the two bills in the lame-duck session.

The late-breaking action in the lame-duck session comes on the heels of the Senate’s Dec. 9 failure to proceed to debate the National Defense Authorization Act, which – in the version passed by the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) and the full House – contained the DADT repeal language that is now being introduced in Lieberman’s and Murphy’s bills.

Of the House bill, out gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) told Metro Weekly, “There would be no point doing this if there wasn’t a real chance to get this done in the Senate.” He noted that he was confident in the House’s ability to pass the stand-alone repeal bill. Regarding passage in the Senate, he assessed ”a better than even chance.”

Saying that the effort unveiled by Hoyer happened only in conjunction with “conversations with the Senate,” Frank said that a “number of Republicans have hidden behind procedure on this” – but that “[t]hose [issues] appear to be getting resolved.”

Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, was quoted in a release from his group saying, “The swift introduction of an identical repeal bill in the House shows that continued efforts to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ this year are still very much alive and the process is moving forward.”

The new Marine Corps commandant, Gen. James Amos, however, attempted to put a roadblock in the way of repeal, telling reporters on Dec. 14 that DADT repeal could be a ”distraction” to Marines and suggested that repeal could even lead to a loss of life.

The comments led Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, to release a statement reading, in part, “General Amos needs to fall in line and salute or resign now.”

Although Amos made it clear when testifying before SASC on Dec. 3 that he opposed the repeal, he also told the committee, ”Could we implement repeal at this time? The answer is yes. … We are Marines.”

As Stars and Stripes reported, Amos took questions from reporters at the Pentagon, telling them, ”Mistakes and inattention or distractions cost Marines lives. That’s the currency of this fight.”

”I take that very, very seriously,” Amos said, according to the Stars and Stripes report. ”I don’t want to lose any Marines to the distraction. I don’t want to have any Marines that I’m visiting at Bethesda [National Naval Medical Center] with no legs be the result of any type of distraction.”

Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, told Metro Weekly, ”Among those U.S. Marines who know a gay or lesbian peer in their unit, 88.1 percent say that the unit functions effectively. Gen. Amos is cherry-picking the data to support his 20th century views, and everyone knows it.”

Belkin added, ”Gen. Amos admitted [in his testimony on Dec. 3] that he is the only service chief who did not take the time to ask his colleagues in foreign militaries whether allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly undermines combat effectiveness.”

Spokespeople for Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen – both of whom have said they support legislative repeal of DADT this year – did not respond to requests from Metro Weekly for comment on the commandant’s concerns.

At the White House briefing Dec. 14, however, when asked by The Advocate‘s Kerry Eleveld about the comments, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs would not respond directly, instead only pointing to the support for repeal from Obama, Gates and Mullen and the majority support for repeal in the Senate. A spokesman for President Barack Obama would not provide further comment beyond that offered by Gibbs at the briefing.

Murphy – the lead on DADT repeal in the House this past year – is in his final days in Congress, having lost re-election to former Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.). Despite the loss, Murphy is pushing forward on the signature issue that led to his strong support from the LGBT community.

SLDN’s Sarvis said in a statement, ”We applaud House Speaker Pelosi, Reps. Hoyer and Murphy for their extraordinary leadership in the waning hours of the lame-duck session.”

Sarvis continued with a caution, adding, ”Let’s be clear: we’ll still need 60 votes in the Senate.”

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said in a statement, ”With the leadership of Rep. Murphy and Leader Hoyer, support for DADT repeal in Congress is at an all-time high. It is up to Congress to act this year to send this failed and discriminatory law to the dustbin of history.”

Pelosi previously issued a statement saying that ”an army of allies stands ready in the House to pass a stand-alone repeal of the discriminatory policy once the Senate acts.”

Now, however, it appears that the House could be moving first.

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