Senate Cuts Anti-Gay Amendments

Defense bill passed by Senate committee contains none of House's anti-LGBT amendments, adds provision repealing military code's sodomy law

The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), chaired by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), unanimously passed its version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on June 16 with none of the three amendments opposed by LGBT advocates that had been included in the House version of the bill that was passed earlier this year.

Sen. Carl Levin
Sen. Carl Levin

Among the House amendments was one related to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, proposed in the House Armed Services Committee by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), that would expand the required certification process for repeal — which already includes the president, defense secretary and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — to include the sign-off of the service branch chiefs of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force. Two other amendments would reaffirm or expand the Defense of Marriage Act.

“I will, personally, strongly oppose the House actions,” Levin said in a conference call with reporters. Although he added that there are some who agree with the House actions, he said that “they didn’t appear, thankfully, during our markup.”

The comments are noteworthy, as the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee is Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who was the leading opponent of DADT repeal in the Senate when it was considered in 2010.

According to Servicemembers United executive director Alex Nicholson, “As predicted, the Senate Armed Services Committee has remained focused on serious military issues and has refused to waste time and taxpayer money trying to delay or stop the repeal of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law.”

He added, “The leader of last year’s efforts to keep the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law on the books sits on this committee, yet no one even tried to introduce a companion amendment to the ridiculous House amendments. This just goes to show that this debate is settled and that Congress needs to focus on the serious issues of the day instead of being distracted by Congressman Duncan Hunter’s circus sideshow over in the House.”

A comprehensive summary of the SASC bill that that committee issued (pdf) this morning also details that one of the provisions in the bill “repeals Article 125 of the UCMJ, relating to the offense of sodomy.”

Human Rights Campaign vice president for communications Fred Sainz told Metro Weekly, ”We commend Chairman Levin for moving forward with an NDAA that includes the repeal of Article 125. With his leadership, we were able to avoid any of the bad House-adopted amendments.”

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network executive director Aubrey Sarvis noted that the sodomy law change has been a long time coming.

Sarvis said in a statement, “After a decade of discussions with the House and Senate Armed Services Committees and specific recommendations to the Hill, we welcome the Senate Armed Services Committee’s (SASC) decision to repeal Article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) relating to sodomy. This action has been recommended by SLDN and several groups, including the Comprehensive Review Working Group (CRWG) as well as the Cox Commission, which includes distinguished legal scholars from the military and academia. The committee’s decision to amend Article 120 of the UCMJ is also timely and welcomed.

“We were also pleased that provisions to delay ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal certification, as well as inject DOMA language into the bill, were not offered.”

The SASC version of the NDAA “amends Article 120 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) relating to the offenses of rape, sexual assault, and other sexual misconduct, to create three separate articles of the UCMJ to correct deficiencies in existing law,” according to the committee summary.