conversations: R. Clarke Cooper

GOP group fights to end 'don't ask, don't tell'

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A federal court in California began hearing arguments this week in a case filed by the Log Cabin Republicans, who are challenging the constitutionality of the "don't ask, don't tell" law, which bans gays and lesbians from openly serving in the military. The Obama administration supports ending the law, and Congress is expected to repeal it this year in the annual defense spending bill.

LCR started in the late 1970s as a Republican equal rights organization, with an emphasis on gays and lesbians. Members must be registered Republicans but are not required to be gay or lesbian.

R. Clarke Cooper has served as the group's executive director since May. A former Bush administration State Department official, he's also a captain in the U.S. Army Reserve.

-- Interview by Ed O'Keefe

Q.Why have Log Cabin Republicans fought for six years to end "don't ask, don't tell"?

It's to directly challenge the constitutionality of the policy. We're seeking a ruling from the federal court that the policy violates constitutional protections of due process and freedom of speech. . . .

If [the policy] ends through the executive process, fine; if it ends through the legislative process, fine. But to achieve victory, as in military operations, one has to look at multiple theaters. Our full-coverage approach has been to cover every aspect of terrain: There's the consultative process in the executive branch, by communicating with the Defense Department. There's the legislative process, advocating for Congress to get out of the personnel management business and strike "don't ask, don't tell" from the U.S. Code so that the Defense Department can actually implement open service. Then there's the judicial approach.

We've gotten some slings and arrows from Democrats who say, 'Isn't it convenient that you're going to court right now and holding the administration accountable.' We're going to hold the administration's feet to the fire, but . . . you can't walk up to a judge and ask him when to set the trial. We've been working up to this court date. It didn't happen overnight.

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