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

Thursday, July 15, 2010; B03

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.

From libertarians, to moderates, to the most socially conservative members, what do Republicans generally say about your efforts?

There's been a steady increase of Americans in support of repeal. If you break down those metrics, registered Republicans generally support repeal. There are those who are self-identified conservatives, who can range from libertarians to tea party members, who are for repeal. Then there are . . . people who attend church services on a regular basis. Again, there's a steady support for repeal.

But some members of Congress have a different view. . . . For others, it's the fiscal side. . . . There's a lot of support data out there that Log Cabin and other organizations have used to show it's expensive to discharge somebody. You get someone who is either a commissioned officer or as an E-1 enlisted, it costs a lot of money to put them through basic training. Then if they go through additional schooling, that's additional funds. Then if they're discharged, they don't get a pink slip and leave the next day. There's a whole drawn-out period of time, from when they find out to when they take off the uniform. So there's that negative impact.

Considering the growing support for gay rights, do you see Republicans dropping gay rights as an issue of concern?

Our moniker is "Inclusion Wins." We've been advocating for years that we should focus on basic, core conservative values and stay away from divisive wedge issues and social issues. So I believe that the party, and many in the party, see that wedge issues have a diminishing return and that they're not a winning proposition.

The Pentagon sent 400,000 active duty and reserve troops a survey last week about repealing "don't ask, don't tell." Should troops complete the survey?

Yes, and I've been telling them that. I'm going to participate. There's an online dropbox, and I'm going to log on and participate and do that.

So as a reserve Army captain who is gay, you're not worried about being discharged under the policy?

The threat and specter are still there, but this is a policy that needs to go. Do I want to be discharged? Heck no. I love the Army. I'm proud of my service. My family has been serving in the military in some fashion since the 1630s, in what was once home guard, later national guard, reserve and active duty. Every generation has been doing military service, and I don't plan to resign my commission. There's no need to.

But resigning versus being forced out is another thing?

Well, that's not necessary, either.

So you don't have concerns about safeguarding the privacy of troops that participate in the survey like other gay rights groups do?

My concern is that if people who are directly affected by this policy don't participate in the survey, then we're abdicating terrain. It's not a good idea to surrender in that sense.

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