May 24, 2011 at 5:58 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
White House denounces ‘Don’t Ask’ provision in defense bill

An official White House Statement of Administration Policy on major Pentagon budget legislation before the U.S. House reiterates concerns the administration has over a provision that could derail “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal — without explicitly making a veto threat over this issue.

The statement, made public on Tuesday, provides an overview the administration’s position and concerns about the fiscal year 2012 defense authorization bill, which is likely to come to a floor vote this week. The White House expresses reservations about anti-gay provisions that the House Armed Services Committee inserted upon its consideration of the legislation.

The most high-profile anti-gay provision — offered as an amendment by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) — is language that would expand the certification requirement needed for repeal to the four military service chiefs. The White House had previously objected to language expanding the certification in a statement to media outlets.

Such a provision would complicate the repeal process established by the law signed in December, which would implement open service after 60 days pass following certification from the president, the defense secretary and the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

But the White House for the first time in the Statement of Administration Policy voices opposition to other anti-gay language in the defense bill.

One provision — offered as an amendment by Rep. W. Todd Akin (R-Mo) — prohibits military facilities for being used for same-sex marriage ceremonies, even in states where same-sex marriage is legal, and prevents military chaplains from presiding over same-sex marriages in their official capacities. Yet another provision, offered as an amendment by Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), reaffirms that the Defense Department and its regulations are subject to the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

The Statement of Administration Policy expresses concerns over the provisions related to both “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and marriage in the defense bill.

Attempts to Prevent, Delay, or Undermine the Repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”:  On December 22, 2010, President Obama signed into law the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010, in order to strengthen our national security, enhance military readiness, and uphold the fundamental American principles of fairness and equality that warfighters defend around the world.  As required by that statute, DoD is diligently working to prepare the necessary policies and regulations and conducting educational briefings to implement the repeal.  Should it be determined, as required by the statute, that the implementation is consistent with the standards of military readiness and effectiveness, unit cohesion, and military recruiting and retention, then the President, the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will send forward the required certification.  The Administration strongly objects to any legislative attempts (such as section 533) to directly or indirectly undermine, prevent, or delay the implementation of the repeal, as such efforts create uncertainty for servicemembers and their families.

Military Regulations Regarding Marriage:  The Administration strongly objects to sections 534 and 535, believes that section 3 of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is discriminatory, and supports DOMA’s repeal.

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, commended the White House for speaking out against these anti-gay provisions while voicing particular concern over the Akin amendment, which SLDN contends would go beyond the existing reach under DOMA to impose new restrictions on same-sex couples.

“We are heartened to see the White House standing firm against attempts to use the defense spending bill as a vehicle for delaying or derailing repeal and expanding DOMA,” Sarvis said. “The most troubling is the Akin language which infringes upon the religious liberties of chaplains, service members, and Department of Defense civilian employees. This would set a dangerous precedent.”

Although the administration objects to the anti-gay provisions in the defense authorization bill, the Statement of Administration Policy stops short of threatening to veto the bill over this language.

On other matters, such as the inclusion of funds for an alternate engine program for the next-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft, the statement says the president’s senior advisers would recommend a veto if a bill came to the president’s desk with such language. Additionally, the statement says on the whole the administration “supports House passage” of the defense authorization bill.

In response to the lack of a veto threat over the anti-gay language, Sarvis told the Washington Blade he’s “hopeful” that any differences between the House and Senate bills “can be resolved in conference and avoid the necessity for a veto.”

“At SLDN, we are focused on the Senate, where we should be better positioned to fight back these attacks,” Sarvis said.

Even without the veto threat, the chances of the a defense bill making its way to the president’s desk with anti-gay language are small. The Democratic-controlled Senate would have to agree to the provisions in conference committee, which is unlikely. Further, Pentagon officials have said “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal certification could happen mid-summer, rending the certification expansion provision in the House defense bill moot.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

  • The anti-gay must be fought with an untold savagery (by legal means, I am saying; non-violently, but with endless determination) and they are winning at all because that is NOT happening. This is exceptionally problematic because the anti-gay are extremely loud, vociferous and theatrical in their objections, which FORCES the pro-gay to react in the same way. I advise the pro-gay to start reacting that way and to REFUSE to stand down, even if Congress becomes deadlocked and it starts causing other problems. If it does, the pro-gay can turn around, make an example of the anti-gay, and tell the nation, “This is what we are dealing with. If you want these problems to stop, get these people to STOP doing this, NOW, once and for all, and let the law pass.” You are going to have to be EXCEPTIONALLY stubborn with the anti-gay and I advise you to start immediately. Thank you.

  • Two steps forward one back. That’s how the advancement of equality seems to be working these days. I actually think we’re winning the culture war and our opponents are starting to panic a little bit. This horrible lesgislation in Tennessee is an example. They’re trying to insulate themselves from what they know is coming. I think it’s going to get really, really ugly. It’s shameful when hate is so thinly veiled behind legal language.

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