The decision by Maine voters to repeal a state law legalizing same-sex marriage is energizing supporters of the ban on gays in the military, who hope Democrats will recognize the political costs associated with repealing the policy and back down.
Gay activists have cited polls indicating the public has changed its view of letting gays, lesbians and bisexuals serve openly in the military. The Human Rights Campaign, one of the nation’s largest gay activist groups, cites a poll indicating 75 percent of Americans believe gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly.
This, they say, compares with 62 percent in 2001 and 44 percent in 1993 when Congress passed the current law banning gays, lesbians and bisexuals from serving openly in the military. This law is distinct from the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy President Bill Clinton introduced the same year that allows gays, lesbians and bisexuals to serve in the military as long as they do not disclose their sexual orientation.
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Opponents who support the bill, called the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, sponsored by Reps. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., and Patrick Murphy, D-Pa., which would repeal the 1993 law say 13,500 service members have been discharged under the law. They also cite a 2005 GAO report as a key reason to repeal the ban. It indicated approximately 800 individuals with “mission critical” skills in the areas of linguistics, medicine and intelligence gathering among others had been discharged under the ban.
The proposed law would allow lesbians, gays and bisexuals to serve openly in all branches of the armed forces.
But proponents of keeping the ban in place say the Maine vote sends a clear signal that the polls do not square with reality.
“I think the vote in Maine — the 31st state to affirm traditional marriage — completely discredits the notion that civilian polls make the case for the repeal of the 1993 law regarding homosexuals serving in the military,” said Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness. “The opposition, those wanting the repeal, keep pointing to these civilian polls, but they are not relevant because most civilians, first of all, do not understand the culture of the military.
“When you see the vote in Maine, a liberal state, that when they go into the voting booth, people do care about traditional marriage … and it ought to be considered by any member of Congress considering repealing the 1993 law.”
The law’s passage, she said, was a nonpartisan issue because it passed both Houses of Congress with overwhelming bipartisan margins.
“I happen to believe there are a number of Democrats, particularly on the armed services committees, who do not want to repeal this law,” she said. “They are not going to vote for the [repeal] that Rep. Patrick Murphy and other people in Congress want to impose on our military.”
She warns repealing the ban could pose an electoral risk in the light of the Maine vote.
“The [current] law is composed of 15 findings that very carefully set forth the difference between the military and all other institutions of American life,” Donnelly said. “People in the military live in conditions that are called ‘forced intimacy.’ That means little or no privacy, and they don’t get to go home at night.
“They live in the same circumstances with people not of their choosing around the clock.”
Allowing openly homosexual individuals into this environment, she says, would be tremendously harmful to morale because it would be tantamount to putting men and women in the same barracks under close quarters.
“It would not allow for modesty or privacy when it comes to sexual matters,” she said.
Donnelly also warns the bill would impose a zero tolerance policy for anyone who disagrees with the policy.
“That’s what happens when you try painting an issue such as this as a civil rights issue,” she said. “It is not a civil rights issue, but what it means is anyone who disagrees starting with the chaplains or anyone who for any reason might be concerned about good order and good discipline and morale ... would be subject to denial of promotions and other penalties.”
Denying a promotion to a service member, she said, is tantamount to ending his or her career.
The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an organization dedicated to repealing the ban, however, claims the younger generation do not care about whether or not a fellow service member is gay. The groups cites a 2006 Zogby poll saying 73 percent of current service members are comfortable with people who are gay, lesbian or bisexual as evidence of their contention.
The group also says one in four U.S. troops who served in Iraq or Afghanistan knows a member of their unit who is gay.
Calls to the White House, Human Rights Campaign and Murphy’s office seeking comment were not immediately returned.
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