A group of 23 Republican members of the U.S. House wrote President Obama on Thursday asking him to hold off on certification of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal until Congress can review the Defense Department’s policy changes that would lead to open service.
“Given the necessity for congressional review, which has been limited to this point, we respectfully request that you refrain from transmitting certification until Congress has had sufficient time to review pending legislative matters of policy and law,” the letter states.
Leading the group of U.S. House members who signed the letter is Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), who amended pending defense budget legislation to expand the certification requirement needed for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and potentially disrupt the implementation of open service.
Others among the 23 signers of the letter are Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), chair of the House Armed Services personnel subcommittee, as well as Reps. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.), W. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) and Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.).
Under the repeal law signed in December, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” won’t be off the books until the president, the defense secretary and the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify the U.S. military is ready for open service. Training has been underway in the armed forces since February to prepare the military for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.
Pentagon officials have testified that certification for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal could happen in mid-summer. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said he’s open to issuing certification this month before his retirement if the service chiefs thinks moving forward is appropriate.
Part of the repeal law states that open service shouldn’t go forward until the Pentagon has “prepared the necessary policies and regulations” for open service. The GOP letter to Obama states Congress should have the opportunity to review the new regulations before the president and defense leaders give the OK for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.
“Merely providing ‘training and educational’ briefs to our service members is not enough to justify moving forward with certification when consequential policy and regulatory changes associated with implementation must be reviewed by Congress under its oversight function,” the letter states. “Until those policy changes have been delivered and reviewed by Congress, it would be irresponsible to proceed with the certification process.”
Additionally, the letter states that certification at this time would be premature because of “apparent confusion” at the Defense Department in creating new policies for open service.
In April, the Navy issued guidance stating military facilities could be used for same-sex marriages in states where it’s legal and chaplains could officiate over these ceremonies, if they so chose, in their official capacities. The Navy has since rescinded this guidance and said further review is necessary.
“This planned policy change is a violation of the federal Defense of Marriage Act,” the letter states. “The training revision also departed from prior assurances given to Congress with regard to Defense Department enforcement of the law and intent of the Defense of Marriage Act.”
LGBT advocates have said the Navy guidance didn’t violate DOMA because the statute as it stands says nothing about military facilities.
However, the House version of the fiscal year 2012 defense authorization bill has language — inserted as an amendment by Akin — that would prohibit military bases from being used for same-sex marriage ceremonies and military chaplains from presiding over these celebrations. LGBT rights advocates say this language would expand DOMA beyond its current restrictions that prevent the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage.
Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, said in response to the letter that certification will happen when “the standards set forth in the [repeal] bill are met” as has been previously stated.
“The president continues to work with the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs to certify that implementation of the new policies and regulations written by the department is consistent with the standards of military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention of the armed forces,” Inouye said. “That process is moving forward quickly and efficiently.”
Inouye said he won’t comment directly on letters that members of Congress have sent to the president, but recalled Obama “has been clear” certification will happen before the end of the year.
Those who worked to pass legislation allowing for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal last year dismissed the letter as merely Hunter and other House Republicans seeking obtain media attention.
Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said the letter is an instance of Hunter “grandstanding” as he seeks to disrupt “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.
“Mr. Hunter knows very well that Congress has acted and the chiefs, Secretary Gates, and [Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm, Mike] Mullen are moving toward the final stages of certification,” Sarvis said. “This is all about Mr. Hunter — not about our troops, who have moved on.”
Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said the White House and Pentagon “are smarter than” withholding certification because of the concerns expressed in the letter.
“This is just the latest in Congressman Hunter’s circus sideshow about ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ while the rest of the Congress is trying to deal with serious issues like wars and budgets,” Nicholson said. “If the administration let’s this letter distract from the progress made towards certification, then we’ve got bigger problems on our hands.”