In a request that seems more like political theatre than political combat, the House Armed Services Committee sent a plea to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta asking that repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell be delayed.
The repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the federal law which has barred openly gay people from the military for 18 years, is scheduled to be enacted on Tuesday, September 20—60 days after military officials and President Obama certified to Congress that the military is ready to repeal the law.
But in a September 12 letter, Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC), chairman of the Military Personnel Subcommittee, urge Panetta to delay repeal.
“The Department is not ready to implement repeal because all the policies and regulations necessary for the transition are not yet final,” states the letter.
Specifically, McKeon and Wilson claim that they have not received from the DOD “revised regulations and a summary of all the specific policy changes, especially with regard to benefits, that will take effect upon repeal.”
A Defense spokeswoman said Thursday, September 14, “The repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell will occur, in accordance with the law and after a rigorous certification process, on September 20. Senior Department of Defense officials have advised Congress of changes to regulations and policies associated with repeal. We take that obligation seriously.”
A spokesman for the House Armed Services Committee downplayed the significance of the letter, saying its point was simply to “highlight” that, with any big change, it’s important that regulations are in place “and things go smoothly.”
“We haven’t seen any evidence those things have happened,” said the spokesman.
Specifically, the letter asked Panetta that memoranda from senior military leaders regarding repeal of DADT be “made public and transmitted” to the Committee.
But the Defense spokeswoman said, “Senior Department officials, including the General Counsel, have met with House Armed Services Committee staff and shared with them all of the proposed revisions to the regulations and new policies to be promulgated.”
And another senior Defense official said, “The service secretaries, service chiefs, and combatant commanders submitted their recommendations months ago, and none of them suggested that repeal be postponed.”
McKeon and Wilson’s request to make public memoranda from senior military leaders came at a particularly ironic time. Just three days earlier, the Republican-led House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) informed a federal judge that BLAG did not consent to being videotaped during its defense of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in court next month. The court had asked to videotape the proceedings in order to make them available to the public.
Republican Congressional leaders published a Pledge to America in September 2010, promising to make their actions “more transparent.”
Aubrey Sarvis, head of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), said the House committee’s letter was “another example of the hardcore opposition attempting to delay or undo” DADT repeal.
“I expect they will continue to look for openings to deny gay and lesbian service members the same rights and dignity as their straight counterparts,” said Sarvis. Sarvis said the law passed by Congress last December and signed by President Obama, “only requires that the new regulations be prepared—not issued—before certification.”
President Obama, Secretary Panetta, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen sent Congress written notice July 22 that the military is prepared to implement repeal of the ban.
Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese called the House Armed Services Committee letter “a desperate move by extremist House members to continue to discriminate against gay and lesbian service members in our military.”
HRC noted that gay and lesbian servicemembers would still be denied a wide variety of benefits, even after repeal of DADT. The federal Defense of Marriage Act, it said, bars the DOD from providing benefits, such as health insurance coverage, to the spouses of gay servicemembers. And gay servicemembers will still be denied access to housing for military families, relocation services, and other aid.
“It is time to finally end this discriminatory law,” said Solmonese, “and moves to stall will be seen by Americans for what they are—homophobic attempts to prevent the military from continuing down the path of full equality.”