More than 30 conservative pastors and other religious leaders joined several Republican congressmen Thursday in criticizing the proposed repeal of the ban on gays serving openly in the military.
"People in the country are angry," said Pastor Luke Robinson of Quinn Chapel in Frederick, Md. "They are concerned that this administration's radical, socialistic approach to everything from the economy to the military is going to destroy this nation."
Other religious leaders, including several retired military men, voiced concerns over the impact of open homosexuality on the morale, recruitment, and functionality of the armed forces.
On Thursday, the House was expected to pass the repeal of the Clinton-era "don't ask, don't tell" policy, a move supported by President Obama. In the Senate, the armed services committee was expected to pass it and send it along for a full vote when Congress returns from its weeklong Memorial Day vacation. In both cases, the initiative to end the ban was attached to a $760 billion defense spending bill.
Rep. Jack Kingstorn, R-Ga., was sharply critical of the impending congressional votes.
"This is a major national policy being changed two floors above us in a 10-minute debate. That's an insult to the American people from a Congress that already has a reputation for not listening to the American people."
Rep. Kingston was joined by several other Republican lawmaker, including Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert, Iowa Rep. Steve King, Iowa and Missouri Rep. Todd Akin.
As the debate began in the House, Rep. Jared Polis, an openly gay Democrat from Colorado, said most Americans "recognize that on the battlefield, it doesn't matter if a soldier is lesbian, gay or straight. What matters is they get the job done for our country."
"We need to get this done, and we need to get it done now," said Rep. Patrick Murphy, a Pennsylvania Democrat who served in the Iraq war and who is the chief sponsor of the amendment.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said he supports repeal but would prefer that Congress wait to vote until he can talk to the troops and chart a path forward. A study he ordered is due Dec. 1.
"With Congress having indicated that is not possible, the secretary can accept the language in the proposed amendment," said Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell.
The gay rights amendment is the product of a compromise with Pentagon leaders: It will not go into effect until the Pentagon completes a study, expected in December, on the ramifications of the policy change and until the president, the defense secretary and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify that it won't hurt the military's ability to fight.
Also on hand was Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council Action, which organized the conference.
Mr. Perkins has criticized the proposed repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," as a desperate political move by President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats to pay off gay-rights groups now while the Democrats control both houses.
"The irony of the moment should not escape us," he said Thursday, "that as we are entering the Memorial Day weekend, that instead of honoring our servicemen and women, this administration is using the military to advance their radical social agenda."
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