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November 19, 2010

‘Don’t ask’ repeal may be removed from defense bill

Washington, D.C.--Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, normally one of the LGBT community’s strongest allies in the Senate, may remove “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal from the defense authorization bill that has stalled in the chamber.

 “I’m trying to get the bill through Congress,” he told reporters on November 16. “I’m the committee chairman for a 900-page bill. ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ is two pages of 900 pages. My focus is different from the media focus. I’m just trying to get the bill passed,” according to Foreign Policy magazine.

“I’m trying to get both done. And if I can’t get both done, I want to get one of them done,” he continued.

The House passed the defense bill earlier this year with the “don’t ask” repeal included. A filibuster stopped its passage by the Senate in September. Now, the only chance to pass the repeal is in the current lame-duck session.

Levin will not decide on removing the repeal measure until the release of a Pentagon working group’s report on the repeal, due out December 1. Levin asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates to release the study early, but has yet to receive a response.

Senators Joe Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, and Maine Republican Susan Collins also called on Gates to release the report early.

“Based on the initial reports, it sounds like the working group has conducted a thorough and comprehensive review of issues related to the policy and its potential repeal,” the letter from the two senators reads. “Some of our colleagues in the Senate share our view about the importance of passing a defense bill, but they are awaiting the release of the working group’s report before agreeing to begin debate on the bill.”

The study was leaked to the Washington Post, which brought stern statements from Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell.

“The Secretary strongly condemns the unauthorized release of information related to this report and has directed an investigation to establish who communicated with the Washington Post or any other news organization without authorization and in violation of Department policy and his specific instruction,” he said. “The full report will be made public for all to review early next month. Until then, no one at the Pentagon will comment on its contents.”

The leaked results said that 70% of servicemembers surveyed didn’t care if the policy was repealed, had mixed emotions, or favored repeal. The study also found minimal risk to the current war efforts if the ban is lifted, the Post reported.

In an even more painful twist, the Palm Center, a University of California-Santa Barbara think-tank on sexuality and the military, released a call by two LGBT and allied military organizations saying that they would support the defense authorization bill even if the DADT repeal is cut from it.

“There is nothing more important than loyalty to those with whom we serve. 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 release from OutServe and Knights Out reads. “Therefore . . . we respectfully urge Congress to pass the FY 2011 National Defense Authorization Act to fund the aircraft, weapons, combat vehicles, ammunition and promised pay-raises for all troops, whether or not the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is included.”

“To be clear, we will continue to fight for our integrity as gay and lesbian service members and we hope that legislative action in Congress can be taken in 2010 to lift the ban,” it continues.

Knights Out is a coalition of LGBT West Point graduates, while OutServe is comprised of 1,000 active-duty service personnel.

Meanwhile, Senator John McCain appeared on Meet the Press over the weekend, reiterating his opposition to repeal, despite all of his earlier requirements being met.

“McCain has said he wanted to hear from the senior military leadership,” Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese said. “He heard loud and clear from Secretary Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, last February when both were firmly in support of repeal.”

“McCain has said he wanted to hear from rank-and-file troops, He has just heard loud and clear from them through the survey,” Solmonese went on. “But he doesn’t like their answer--and is stonewalling, trying to run out the clock on repeal by calling for congressional hearings.”

Other information coming out in the past week was that service members who are discharged for being gay, even if they are honorably discharged, get half the separation pay as other involuntarily discharged personnel who have served for six years.

The difference is not contained in the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a class action suit on November 10 on behalf of personnel who were denied half of their separation pay.

While the ACLU is applying this additional pressure, the HRC is buying full-page newspaper ads in Ohio, Massachusetts, Virginia and Indiana to pressure on-the-fence senators in those states to support repeal.

In Ohio, the ad appeared on the back page of the Plain Dealer’s first section on Monday, November 15.

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