Democrats vow quick end to 'don't ask, don't tell' as Senate bill is introduced

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman introduced the legislation.
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman introduced the legislation. (Melina Mara - The Washington Post)
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By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 4, 2010

Leading Senate Democrats pledged Wednesday to move quickly to repeal the ban on gays serving openly in the armed forces rather than wait, as the Pentagon has requested, for the military to complete a lengthy review.

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) introduced the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, legislation that would lift the ban and prohibit discrimination against gay service members. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) said he expects his panel to take up the measure in May as part of the annual defense authorization bill.

"Gays are serving successfully in our military right now -- this legislation would allow them to serve with integrity," Levin said.

Lieberman said: "If Americans want to serve, they ought to have the right to be considered for that service regardless of characteristics such as race, religion, gender or sexual orientation."

The Pentagon and congressional Republicans have urged Democrats to allow the military to first complete its study of the policy and the impact of a potential repeal. The study is expected to be completed by Dec. 1.

"We need to know more than we know now about what the potential impact would be," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told reporters Wednesday. "And we need to be armed with that information so that we could work with the Congress to help inform the process that they undertake, if they undertake it."

Testifying before a House subcommittee on military personnel, Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson, who is leading the review, urged lawmakers to hold off on a vote. "Our work would not just be relevant to implementing any regulations, but it may be relevant to how you legislate the approach," he said.

Rep. Joe Wilson (S.C.), the panel's ranking Republican, said he hopes the Pentagon assessment addresses the potential impact on military readiness, cohesion, morale and discipline. "If the study does not address these issues, then its overall credibility and usefulness for the congressional decision-making process will be significantly undermined," Wilson said.

House Democrats repeatedly suggested a repeal is inevitable. "I would ask those who oppose repeal to join us on the right side of history," said Rep. Susan A. Davis (Calif.).

Johnson said the panel's study will probably examine the military's prohibition of certain sex acts, even among consenting adults and married couples. He said that civilian and uniformed military leadership will approach the study with an objective mind but that he agrees with President Obama's calls for a repeal.

"We intend to solicit the views of organizations and groups that are familiar with the issue, not just within the active-duty force, but organizations that have spent a considerable amount of time studying the policy, studying the potential for a repeal policy, and that includes groups that have a diverse range of opinions on the issue," he said.

Democratic lawmakers on the House subcommittee questioned how the military's review could gauge the reaction of gay men and lesbians currently serving in uniform -- and Gen. Carter Ham, the commander of U.S. Army forces in Europe and a co-chair of the review panel, acknowledged the difficulty. "We're looking for ways," he said. The panel may solicit opinions from gay service members through nongovernmental organizations or allow service members to share their thoughts anonymously.

Three-quarters of Americans say they support openly gay people serving in the U.S. military, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.


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