by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Staff Writer
Gay rights groups and supportive Democratic lawmakers were angered on April 30 by a letter by senior Pentagon leaders warning Congress not to tamper with the ban on Gays serving openly in the military until they can come up with a plan for dealing with potential opposition in the ranks.
In the strongly worded letter, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen told the House Armed Services Committee that forcing policy changes on the military before it's ready would be a mistake.
"Our military must be afforded the opportunity to inform us of their concerns, insights, and suggestions if we are to carry out this change successfully," Gates and Mullen wrote to the panel's chairman, Missouri Democrat Ike Skelton. "Imposing a moratorium on DADT before the end of a review would send a very damaging message to our men and women in uniform that, in essence, their views, concerns, and perspectives do not matter on an issue with such a direct impact and consequence for them and their families."
The Gay military ban, known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," requires the Defense Department to separate from the armed services members who engage in or attempt to engage in homosexual acts, state they are homosexual or Bisexual, or marry or attempt to marry a person of the same biological sex. Nearly 14,000 otherwise qualified men and women have been discharged from the military under DADT, and many thousands more have chosen to not re-enlist because of the policy. Enforcing and implementing the policy has cost U.S. taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
Activists and supporters said the letter puts their efforts in jeopardy.
On April 30, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that Congress should "immediately place a moratorium on dismissals under this policy until the review has been completed and Congress has acted."
Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said that Gates' statement "delivered a devastating blow to getting repeal done this year."
Sarvis said, "The joint political decision by Obama and Gates showed a lack of respect for our LGBT servicemembers who are on the front lines every day, risking their lives for our safety."
President Obama has said the 1993 law unfairly punishes patriotic Americans and asked Congress to repeal it, yet little has been done by the administration to support his claims.
In a statement released late Friday, White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said Obama's commitment to repealing the law remains "unequivocal" and that Obama "is committed to getting this done both soon and right."
Gates says he supports lifting the ban but wants to survey the troops first on how it should be done. He has ordered a study - to be completed at year's end - that will look at whether housing arrangements would have to be altered and if Gay partners would be allowed military benefits.
Defense officials hope the protracted timeline will help troops adjust to the idea of serving with openly Gay colleagues before they are actually faced with the change.
Still, supportive Democratic politicians are accusing the Pentagon of employing stall tactics, saying the time for repeal is now.
Michigan Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is expected to sponsor repeal language in the defense budget in the Senate, while Representative Patrick Murphy, a Pennsylvania Democrat, is considered the most likely to offer the legislation in the House.
The window to act, however, is quickly coming to a close, as markups for the 2011 Defense Authorization Bill on both sides of Congress are expected to take place within the next three weeks. A House vote may come as early as May 24.
MORE ARRESTS AT WHITE HOUSE GATE
On May 2, six more openly Gay people were arrested for handcuffing themselves to the White House fence following a rally at Lafayette Park.
During the rally former chairman of the Democratic National Committee Howard Dean told the crowd of more than 100 that the committee chairman running the DADT discussion in the Senate "has the votes" to pass a repeal this year.
Referring to Lt. Dan Choi - who has twice been arrested for handcuffing himself (alongside Capt. James Pietrangelo) to the fence in front of the White House - Dean told the crowd, "We can't afford to lose any talented people."
As Choi was speaking to the crowd, six activists - Ann Tischer, Nora Camp, Alan Bounville, Natasha Dillon, Eiona DiBona, and Mark Reed - attached themselves to the same fence where Choi and Pietrangelo had been with four others two weeks ago.
According to Metro Weekly, after a few minutes of standing silently at the fence, the six activists stood on the raised cement, shouting slogans demanding equality. The crowd chanted in response, "Yes, you can!"
Pietrangelo said to the crowd, "I wish that President Obama had the courage of those protesters on the fence. There's more of that coming, and we will keep doing that until we get full equality. Period."
Choi and Pietrangelo did not chain themselves to the fence. By D.C. Superior Court order, the two openly Gay veterans must stay away from the fence - and the block surrounding the White House - until their cases are resolved or face a contempt of court citation.
Roughly 30 minutes after handcuffing themselves to the fence, the six protesters had their cuffs removed by U.S. Park Police and were arrested and placed in a van for processing.
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