Metro Weekly

Partisan Pride?

Critics take aim at Pentagon decision to permit military uniforms at San Diego LGBT Pride parade

For the first time since the end of ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” active-duty servicemembers were granted permission to march in full uniform in an LGBT pride parade – specifically, San Diego’s on July 21.

In a memo sent to all branches of the U.S. military before the parade, the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense gave the go-ahead provided soldiers ”ensure the adherence to Military Service standards of appearance and wear of the uniform” and participate in their personal capacity. The memo further stipulated that this grant of permission would apply only to the San Diego Pride Parade.

A military contingent in the parade was a historic event that garnered national media attention, particularly when a Navy officer dropped to one knee during the parade and proposed to his boyfriend. But the decision also attracted criticism from some Republicans on Capitol Hill.

Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe criticized the Pentagon’s decision as opening the floodgates for politics and partisanship in the military.

In a letter sent to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Inhofe questioned whether the decision violated military policy, in particular a rule that forbids servicemembers from marching or riding in a ”partisan political parade.”

”If the Navy can punish a Chaplain for participating in a pro-life event or a Marine participating in a political rally, it stands to reason that DOD should maintain the same standard and preclude service members in uniform from marching in a gay pride parade,” Inhofe wrote.

Inhofe was joined in his criticism by Virginia Republican Rep. Randy Forbes, who called the decision ”outrageous and blatantly political determination issued solely to advance this administration’s social agenda.”

”This is yet another violation in what has become a pattern of this administration’s assault on the longstanding history of the Department of Defense as a nonpolitical organization,” Forbes said.

In an interview with The Daily Caller, Inhofe went a step further and accused President Barack Obama of pressuring the Pentagon into granting an exception to military policy.

”The Department of Defense isn’t allowing this to go on, it’s the president,” Inhofe told The Daily Caller. ”The secretary of defense answers to the president, and the military answers to the commander in chief. Clearly this is Barack Obama.”

The Pentagon has yet to respond to Inhofe’s letter or the charges he and Forbes have raised. A spokesperson for the Defense Department confirmed that the senator’s letter had been received, but would not disclose the specifics of Inhofe’s correspondence with Panetta.

”The secretary appreciates the senator’s interest in this issue and will respond promptly and privately,” Commander Leslie Hull-Ryde said in an email to Metro Weekly.

Although San Diego Pride organizers took issue with Inhofe’s statements, questions remain as to how partisan a pride parade is compared to a pro-life rally, neither of which necessarily identify with one political party.

In a letter published by San Diego Gay and Lesbian News, Sean Sala, a member of Servicemembers United who organized the parade’s military contingent, countered Inhofe’s characterizations.

”Members of Congress who believe that servicemembers’ participation in an LGBT pride parade is equivalent to attending or speaking at a political or campaign rally in uniform have simply failed to do their research and apply common sense,” Sala wrote.

Speaking to Metro Weekly, Log Cabin Republicans Executive Director R. Clarke Cooper, an Army combat veteran, said that pride parades are not partisan events, but that there was miscommunication on both sides in how they handled the situation.

”To say that one’s orientation is attributable to a particular political party is wildly inaccurate,” Cooper said, adding that regulations concerning future pride parades will likely become less opaque as the military adapts to openly gay service members.

Justin Snow is Metro Weekly's former political editor and White House correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @JustinCSnow.