Activists split over 'don't ask, don't tell'

By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Disagreements over how Congress should proceed on ending the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy are dividing gay rights groups as lawmakers are set to decide this week how to move forward on the issue.

Leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee spoke Monday about proceeding with the annual defense authorization bill, which currently includes language that would end the ban on gay men and lesbians openly serving in uniform. But aides to Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) did not expect those senators to resolve the issue until later in the week.

Three groups that support lifting the ban - the Palm Center at the University of California at Santa Barbara, OutServe and Knights Out - said Monday that lawmakers should pass the defense bill whether or not it includes language ending "don't ask, don't tell."

"There is nothing more important than loyalty to those with whom we serve," the groups said in a statement. "This means ensuring that no one issue interferes with funding the courageous and selfless work our fellow service members are doing around the world." The groups vowed to ensure that the ban is lifted this year through different legislation, if necessary. The Palm Center is a think tank that has studied how militaries have integrated gay troops. OutServe represents about 1,000 active-duty gay service members, and Knights Out speaks for gay and lesbian West Point alumni, staff and faculty.

The statement came after McCain voiced skepticism Sunday about repeal efforts and said he wants the Pentagon to conduct a new study on what troops and military leaders think of ending the policy.

Palm Center Deputy Director Christopher Neff said the groups spoke out in support of passing the authorization bill to demonstrate their willingness to put aside personal political priorities in the interest of addressing national security concerns in the bill.

Their calculation puts them at odds with four larger groups more directly involved with lobbying efforts to end the ban: the Human Rights Campaign, the Center for American Progress, Servicemembers United and the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. The defense bill must pass this year with language ending "don't ask, don't tell," these groups said in a joint statement. Servicemembers United Executive Director Alexander Nicholson called any other strategy "lunacy." "It has been the position of the organizations that actually work on repealing 'don't ask, don't tell' to strongly oppose stripping the repeal language out of the defense authorization bill," Nicholson said in an e-mail. In a related development, police on Monday arrested 13 activists working with the gay rights group GetEQUAL who chained themselves to a White House fence demanding the ban be lifted.

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