The U.S. House approved on Thursday major Pentagon budget legislation that includes anti-gay language that could disrupt “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and would reaffirm the Defense of Marriage Act.
By a vote of 322-96, the Republican-controlled House approved the fiscal year 2012 defense authorization bill after three days of debate that discussed continued military operations in Afghanistan, funding for next-generation military programs and increased pay rates for U.S. troops.
Among the many provisions of the defense authorization bill is anti-gay language that the House Armed Services Committee inserted upon 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 include the four military service chiefs. 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.
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.
Yet another 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. The language would expand the federal restrictions on same-sex marriage beyond what DOMA already imposes.
Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, expressed concerns over passage of the legislation — particularly for the inclusion of a provision authorizing worldwide war against terrorism suspects and nations suspected of supporting them — in addition to objecting to the provision that would complicate “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.
“Trying to throw a roadblock up to derail ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal at this point is a desperate attempt to postpone the inevitable,” Murphy said. “For nearly 20 years, lesbian, gay and bisexual service members have been forced to hide who they are and who they love in order to serve their country. It was with the will of the president, the uniformed and civilian leadership of the military and Congress itself that ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was repealed and its implementation will continue to move forward successfully despite the attempts by some House members to disrupt it.”
A number of lawmakers who supported “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal last year voted in favor of the defense authorization bill despite the anti-gay language. On the House floor, some pro-repeal lawmakers said they were casting affirmative votes because they said they think the bill as whole is good for the U.S. armed forces.
On Tuesday, Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.), ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services personnel committee, objected to the language in the bill related to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as she expressed support for the legislation as a whole.
“While there are many good provisions in this bill, I must raise my extreme disappointment with several sections that were included by the majority that seek to delay and prevent gays and lesbians from serving in uniform,” Davis said. “One of the liberties that we as Americans hold dear is that we are all created equal. These individuals should be entitled to serve their Nation in uniform and should not be denied the opportunity.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was also among the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal supporters who voted in favor of the defense authorization bill.
Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, said the Democratic leader voted for the defense authorization bill despite the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” language because she believes this provision won’t ultimately make it to the president’s desk.
“Leader Pelosi strongly opposes the ['Don't Ask, Don't Tell'] language in the [defense] Authorization bill but believes the provisions concerning ['Don't Ask, Don't Tell'] repeal will be removed in conference,” Hammill said. “If these provisions remain intact and are an obstacle to ['Don't Ask, Don't Tell'] repeal implementation, she believes President Obama should veto the legislation.”
But each of the four openly gay members of Congress — Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.) — were among the among the 96 “no” votes on the legislation.
Although the House approved the defense authorization bill with anti-gay language, passing such a measure into law would be challenging because the Democratic-controlled Senate would have to agree to the anti-gay language during conference negotiations.
Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said his organization is looking to the Senate to ensure the anti-gay provisions won’t appear in the final version of the defense authorization bill.
“The opposition may well believe they won the day in the House, simply outnumbering repeal advocates,” Sarvis said. “But this fight is far from over. We must look to repeal supporters in the Senate, where the defense bill will be taken up next and where we are better positioned than in the House. We need to beat back this harmful language and make sure it does not survive in conference committee.”
Another roadblock for the anti-gay language is President Obama, who would have to sign the provisions into law as part of the larger measure for them to enacted. The White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy earlier this week denouncing the provisions related to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and DOMA — although stopped short of threatening to veto the bill over this language.
Moreover, the certification expansion for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal may well be a moot point even if the legislation reaches the president’s desk. Defense officials have testified that certification for repeal could happen mid-summer, and the final version of the defense bill likely will not reach the president’s desk until after that time, rendering the provision useless.
Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, expressed skepticism about the anti-gay measures becoming law or thwarting “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.
“The passage of the defense authorization bill with these hostile amendments included comes as no surprise, and it should not become a cause for concern as long as our allies in the Senate and the president all stand strong and refuse to support a defense bill containing these amendments,” he said. “These amendments were nothing short of a waste of time by lawmakers who were sent to Washington to do serious business and a waste of taxpayer money. The Pentagon, the president, and the American people have made it abundantly clear — we are moving forward and building a stronger military free of unnecessary discrimination.”
No attempt was made on the House floor to strip the defense authorization bill of its anti-gay language. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) had intended to offer an amendment to remove the language related to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” according to the Rules Committee website, but never offered the measure. Kezmiche Atterbury, a Norton spokesperson, said her boss “withdrew her amendment for tactical reasons.”
Informed sources said House Democratic leaders offered those who worked last year to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal the opportunity for an amendment on the floor to eliminate the language in the defense authorization bill related to certification expansion.
However, the five major repeal organizations — the Human Rights Campaign, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, Third Way, Servicemembers United and the Center for American Progress — agreed to decline the opportunity for the amendment.
According to sources, repeal advocates believed such a amendment would likely fail and could pick up support from moderate House Democrats. A defeat on the House floor, advocates believed, would increase the chances of the Senate adopting the certification expansion language.