Sunday, December 2, 2007

Human Right Campaign Calls Upon Democratic Hopefuls to Overturn ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

Friday marked the fourteenth anniversary of the enactment of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) law which prohibits gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. To mark the occasion, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) partnered with Servicemembers United (formerly Call to Duty), Log Cabin Republicans, Service Members Legal Defense Network and Liberty Education Forum, to host a three-day tribute this weekend. The event, “12,000 Flags for 12,000 Patriots,” took place at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., where 12,000 flags were displayed -- each one symbolizing a discharged service member under DADT.

To raise awareness against DADT on the campaign trail in Iowa, the HRC kicked off its “Legacy of Service Tour” in Des Moines in June. "The eyes of the nation and the eyes of the world are on Iowa as we elect our next president," HRC President Joe Solmonese told the audience at the Iowa Historical Museum. The HRC’s mission to repeal the law and educate politicians and the public about the facts have been addressed on its web site.

Moreover, the HRC wants to put a face on the campaign by enlisting veterans directly affected by the policy. Sensing this new call to duty, a number of former service members have stepped forward to share how the DADT policy has negatively impacted their military careers and personal lives. This includes Marine veteran Eric Alva, who lost a leg in the Iraq War. Alva, who has become a spokesman for the “Legacy of Service Tour,” told the Des Moines audience: “I am a man who survived a war, a man who survived a battle, only to come home to another battle, and that battle is for equality.”

Nearly six month have passed since the kick-off event, and the HRC’s efforts to repeal DADT have flown under the radar on the presidential campaign trail. Not until last week’s CNN/YouTube Republican debate did the DADT resurface, albeit under suspicious circumstances, on the national stage.

Meanwhile, on the Democrat side, the HRC has taken a more proactive role in soliciting responses from the leading Democratic presidential candidates to the question: “If you are elected President, what concrete steps would you take to overturn ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?’” The candidates’ responses were posted last week on the HRC’s web site.

While all of the candidates promised they would repeal DADT, asserting the policy is outdated and discriminatory, only Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois provided concrete steps to overturn the law. Sens. Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Hillary Clinton of New York took the first step by initiating the overturn of the process, but fell short in providing a litany of concrete steps they would use to accomplish their objective. Dodd said he would call for a meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff to draw up plans that would put an end to this policy within six months, whereas Clinton promised to work with high profile military leaders and retired military leaders who have called for the repeal of the law.

Although military leaders may share their insights as to what needs to happen, the DADT’s initial fate rests in the hands of the legislative branch, where the law was initially introduced and passed in 1993. If elected, Obama promised to work with Congress and place the weight of his administration behind enactment of the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, which will make nondiscrimination the official policy of the U.S. military.

The Military Readiness Enhancement Act (H.R. 1246), which repeals the current Department of Defense (DoD) policy concerning homosexuality in the Armed Forces, was first introduced in the House Feb. 28, 2007 by Rep. Martin Meehan, D-Mass. The amendment prohibits the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Homeland Security from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation against any member of the Armed Forces or any person seeking to become a member. Moreover, the amendment authorizes the re-accession into the Armed Forces of otherwise qualified individuals previously separated for homosexuality, bisexuality, or homosexual conduct. Thus far, 136 House members have cosponsored the amendment, including Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa.

“I will task the Defense Department and the senior command structure in every branch of the armed forces with developing an action plan for the implementation of a full repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Obama said in a statement. “And I will direct my Secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security to develop procedures for taking re-accession requests from those qualified service members who were separated from the armed forces under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and still want to serve their country.”

Obama promises to go even further, claiming the eradication of DADT will require more than just eliminating one statute. “It will require the implementation of anti-harassment policies and protocols for dealing with abusive or discriminatory behavior as we transition our armed forces away from a policy of discrimination,” Obama said in a statement. “The military must be our active partners in developing those policies and protocols.”

Joe Solmonese speaks at 12,000 Flags event

Originally posted on "Iowa Independent"

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