Top Democrat Lays Out Plan To Repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

Expecting a political fight over the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Chair of the Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, announced to his Democratic colleagues how to overcome a filibuster (a procedural tactic that forces 60 votes to pass a measure in the Senate.)

The plan was announced in response to Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) who said, “It’s up to us.  We gotta get 60 votes to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ or else it will remain in effect.”

Senator Levin (D-Mich.) said an amendment could be added to the must-pass Defense Authorization bill which outlines military policy for the year.  An amendment, instead of a stand alone bill, would only need the support of a simple majority.  Levin said that proposal is “on the record.”

Lieberman responded, “I think that’s a great way to go.”

This off-the-cuff discussion took place at the first hearing of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell since the law was instated in 1993. President Obama called for a repeal in his State of the Union address. The law prohibits the military from asking sexual orientation, but requires dismissal if it becomes known.

Another striking admission at the hearing was made by head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen. He said, “Speaking for myself and myself only, it is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do.”

Mullen‘s statement went beyond the need to simply follow the President’s orders to repeal the law. He invoked his emotion and said, “I can not escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy that forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens. For me personally it comes down to integrity, theirs as individuals and ours as an institution.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said a task force will begin immediately to determine the best path to repeal the “The purpose of the examination that we’re undertaking, frankly, is to inform the decision making of the Congress and… it’s also, frankly, to be prepared to implement any change in the law,” Gates said.

The task force will talk to members of the military and their families to determine military policy. Issues include housing, benefits for partners, misconduct, and more.

Senator Claire Catskill (D-Mo) asked Admiral Mullen, “How are you going to get their take on the issue” if gay service members are silenced under current law? After a few “umms” and then a four second pause, Admiral Mullen said “I think we would have to look carefully.”

Despite overwhelming support from Democrats, Republicans on the committee expressed opposition. Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) called it “disappointing.”

Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia said it will disrupt the moral superiority of the military, including, what he said, is the prohibition of “alcohol use, adultery, fraternization and body art.”

“In my opinion, the presence in the armed forces of persons who demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts, would very likely create an unacceptable risk to those high standards of moral, good order and discipline,” Chambliss said.

It is estimate that 66,000 gays and lesbians currently serve in the military, according the Williams Institute at UCLA. Since Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was implemented, 13,500 members have been discharged, according to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, but that number has been declining since 2001.

Alexander Nicholson is Executive Director of Servicemembers United. He was “outed” by his unit and discharged in 2002. He said it anxiety was the “cloud of fear hanging over your head every day that you will found out…. It’s this constant struggle to make sure you are changing your pronouns, keeping your lies straight….It’s the constant worry that you are going to be fired if you are found out,” Nicholson said.

The Defense Department’s review is expected to be complete before the end of the year.

You can follow Leigh Ann Caldwell on Twitter and hear an audio version of a story on FSRN.

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One Response to Top Democrat Lays Out Plan To Repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

  1. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Ole Ole Olson
    February 2, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    Unfortunately, ANY piece of serious reform in 2010 is going to need a supermajority of 60 votes to overcome Republican and conservative obstructionism. Strangely enough, only having 59 votes in the Dem caucus may not light a fire under the seat of the few center-right Republicans again.

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