U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) introduced a bill Wednesday to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” all the while acknowledging Congress may have to settle with a moratorium as legislative action this year as opposed to outright repeal.
Lieberman touted the legislation — the first Senate bill introduced to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — during a press conference on Capitol Hill.
“This legislation will repeal the current policy of discrimination based on sexual orientation in America’s armed forces and offer in its place a policy of equal opportunity to serve and defend our country,” he said.
The Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2010 would repeal the 1993 law barring gay, lesbian and bisexual people from open service in the U.S. military and put a non-discrimination policy in its place.
To accomplish repeal, the bill would require the Pentagon working group considering “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to submit recommendations on how to best repeal the law to Defense Secretary Robert Gates no later than 270 days after the bill is enacted.
Additionally, the bill would require Gates to issue regulations to enact the bill within 60 days of receipt of the working group’s report, and it requires the secretary of each military department to revise regulations as needed no later than 60 days after that.
Kevin Nix, spokesperson for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said the Senate bill is identical to House legislation, sponsored by Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), except the Senate bill gives the Pentagon a longer time for implementation.
“This bill reflects the fact that the military wants some time to do the best transition possible to open service,” Nix said.
The Senate bill has 11 eleven co-sponsors. Many appeared at the press conference with Lieberman, including Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).
Levin said he’s been opponent of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” since before it was enacted into law in 1993.
“It diminishes our readiness, it diminishes our strength, it denies us, robs us of the men and women to the defense of our country,” he said.
To follow up on the hearing that took place last month, Levin said he’ll hold another hearing on gays in the military March 18 with an outside panel of experts.
Burris, who’s black, called the introduction of the legislation a “very personal issue of basic fairness,” recalling how his family members were once only allowed restricted roles in the U.S. military.
“For all their skills, all their talents, their intelligence and their valor, they were forced to chose between two or three roles when they were in the service: working as a cook, or digging ditches or driving trucks,” Burris said. “That memory is especially crisp as I stand here today to bring an end to this discriminatory policy.”
Gillibrand vilified “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” for what she said was its extremely harmful impact on the U.S. military.
“This policy is one of the most corrosive, destructive policies to the strength of our armed services, to our military readiness, to our national security and to the morale of our troops,” she said.
Gillibrand said “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was particularly detrimental for women in the armed services.
She said women represent 17 percent of the armed services, but more than one-third of all dismissals, including more than one-half in the Army, are female.
Absent among the co-sponsors is any Republican senator. Despite this initial lack of GOP support, Lieberman said he anticipates Republican support for the legislation as it moves forward.
“I believe we’re going to have some Republican support in this,” he said. “There’s a core group that is openly — that is actively concerned.”
While touting the standalone legislation, Lieberman and Levin said the defense authorization bill would be the most likely legislative vehicle to advance repeal.
The lawmakers also said that if they can’t find the votes this year to overturn “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” they would instead try to enact a moratorium on discharges.
During the markup for the defense authorization bill in May, Lieberman said the committee would try for a vote in the Senate Armed Services Committee first on repeal, and if that’s unsuccessful, committee members would pursue a moratorium.
“We’re going to try for a full repeal,” Lieberman said. “If the votes aren’t there in committee or on the floor, a moratorium, I think, is a good interim step and I’ll certainly be open to it.”
But Nix said his organization is still pushing for outright repeal this year as opposed to a moratorium.
“I think it’s premature to talk about the moratorium because we have, as the chairman said, until May to really focus on full repeal, so let’s try to do that first,” Nix said.
In a statement, Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, heralded the introduction of Lieberman’s bill as “continuing the momentum to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ this year.”
“His introduction of the Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2010 is a bold, patriotic move that will long be remembered as key to removing the stain of the discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law from the U.S. code,” he said.