When Congress came back to begin its lame-duck session on Monday, it was suddenly hearing mixed messages from LGBT groups concerning repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
Two relatively small and obscure groups that support repeal of the military’s ban on gays issued a statement Monday morning urging the Senate to pass the annual defense authorization bill “whether or not the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” is included.”
The general circulation media immediately began reporting that there was a rift in the LGBT community over the issue and that the two groups—OutServe and Knights Out—had called for stripping DADT repeal from the FY 2011 Defense Authorization bill.
Reaction from many in the LGBT community was swift and harsh. Gay political blogger John Aravosis said it was an effort to kill DADT repeal. Blogger Pam Spaulding characterized it as a “bombshell.” And four groups—the Human Rights Campaign, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, Servicemembers United, and the Center for American Progress—issued a joint statement Monday urging LGBT groups to “send one message” to Congress: “Repeal DADT Now.”
“Under no circumstances should DADT repeal be stripped from the underlying Defense Authorization bill,” said the statement. “That is simply a non-starter.”
A co-chair of one of the two groups that issued the original statement—OutServe and Knights Out—soon issued a clarification of his group’s earlier message.
“Nowhere do we call for repeal to be stripped from the [defense spending bill],” said a spokesperson, identified as JD Smith, a pseudonym for an active duty servicemember. Smith said that his fellow active duty service members had stood by him when he was under investigation under DADT “and risked their careers in order to protect me.” He criticized Senator John McCain, who has lead the filibuster against DADT repeal, as being willing to withhold necessary funding from all servicemembers in order to “perpetuat[e] discrimination against gay and lesbian service members.”
And Christopher Neff, deputy executive director of the pro-repeal Palm Center, issued a statement saying OutServe “should be commended for their principled stance in support of every service member no matter the outcome of the lame duck session.”
OutServe’s website identifies itself as a three-month-old organization which claims 1,000 active duty military members. The second group, Knights Out, says it has about 200 “members” affiliated with West Point academy.
The urgency of having Congress address DADT repeal in the lame-duck session was heightened by the November 2 mid-term elections. Republicans increased their numbers significantly in the Senate and took over the majority of the House. Those changes take effect in January.
But until then, both the Senate and the House, meeting in lame-duck session, are led by Democrats, most of whom support repeal.
Passage of DADT repeal is given little chance under a weakened Democratic majority in the Senate and no chance in a Republican House.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office would not say when the defense bill might come up on the agenda but a spokeswoman hinted that a vote to try and break the current Republican-led filibuster could come as early as Friday.
The Senate came up three votes short in breaking the filibuster in September, but several Republicans said then that they did not want to vote on the DADT repeal until after seeing the Pentagon study, due December 1, on how repeal might be implemented. Anonymous sources leaked some news about the study last week, indicating that it shows few servicemembers would have difficulty with the change. That seemed to help momentum for repeal proponents.
In fact, Senator Susan Collins (R- Maine), a key Republican who supported the filibuster in September, joined Independent Joseph Lieberman in a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Monday asking for early release of the study.
“We are hopeful,” said Lieberman and Collins, “that release of the report and the opportunity for our colleagues to review its findings and recommendations will help inform their understanding and alleviate some concerns they may have regarding the military’s capacity to implement repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ in a manner that is consistent with our armed forces’ standards of readiness and effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention.”
McCain told NBC Meet the Press on Sunday that he still opposes repeal and that Congress should have hearings to examine the Pentagon study before proceeding with a vote on repeal. Earlier, McCain was said to be in talks with Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, about stripping repeal language from the defense bill. The Grand Rapids Press, in Levin’s home state of Michigan, reported that Levin told reporters there that he hopes to pass the defense spending bill and DADT repeal, but “we just don’t k now if we can.”
Meanwhile, groups committed to repeal are stepping up pressure for a vote during lame duck. Get EQUAL, a relative new LGBT civil rights activist group, visited Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office Monday morning. Later, 13 former veterans were arrested after they tied themselves to a fence in front of the White House, in an action aimed at urging Reid and President Obama to push for repeal of DADT.