Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry said Tuesday he “would be comfortable” reinstating the ban openly gay military service known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” if elected president.
The three-term Texas governor and GOP presidential hopeful made the remarks during a morning interview with ABC News’ Christine Amanpour when asked if he would have been uncomfortable serving alongside openly gay troops in his capacity as an airman.
“If an individual, in their private life, makes a decision about their sexuality from the standpoint of how they’re going to practice it, that’s their business,” Perry said. “I don’t think that question needs to be asked. That’s the reason ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was, in fact, a workable policy, and that’s where I would be comfortable with our country going back to that.”
Despite Perry’s characterization of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” many gay service members were involuntarily outed by a third-party and discharged from service under the law without making any statements about their sexual orientation. For example, Maj. Mike Almy, a former Air Force communications officer, said he never made a statement that was gay while in military service, but was nonetheless expelled from the armed forces in 2006 after his superior obtained private emails revealing his sexual orientation.
Perry said he would “comfortable” reinstating “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” after Amanpour asked him several times whether he would put the gay ban back in place.
The first time he was asked about it, Perry suggested he would discuss the matter with military leaders, saying “you go back and sit down with your commanders in the field and have that conversation,” and maintained the gay ban “worked very well.”
The 18-year-old law prohibiting openly gay service in the military, enacted by Congress in 1993, was lifted from the books on Sept. 20 after President Obama signed repeal legislation in December.
Perry said Obama repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to “make a political statement” and chided the president for “using our men and women in the military as a tool” for that end.
“What I agree with is that the president of the United States [was] changing policy that was working well — and to do it while we were at war in two different theaters, I think, was irresponsible,” Perry said. “And I truly believe he did it to respond to his political base.”
Other Republican presidential hopefuls who’ve said they would reinstate “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and former U.S. senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. Perry’s remarks in the interview mark the first time he’s weighed in on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” since he’s sought election to the White House.
LGBT advocates pounced on Perry for being open to bringing back “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and said the candidate’s views represent a misunderstanding of the military and the American public.
R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the National Log Cabin Republicans, said Perry “sidesteps the importance of individual liberty” by backing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and for asserting it was a “workable uniform policy.”
“As a veteran of the Iraq campaign and current Army reserve officer, I can attest ['Don't Ask, Don't Tell'] was a hindrance to servicemember integrity, readiness, security and was a tremendous waste of tax dollars,” Cooper said.
Cooper noted a bipartisan majority in Congress legislatively ended “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” last year and said suggesting that law should be restored “is a no-go and demonstrates a lack of understanding key national security issues.”
“We must have a president who will lead our military in the 21st century, not cling to a failed relic of the last,” Cooper said. “Gov. Perry should remain battle focused on the economy if he wants Republicans to a win in 2012.”
Fred Sainz, vice president of communications at the Human Rights Campaign, called Perry’s remarks “nothing more than red meat for Republican primary voters.”
“Gov. Perry knows better which is what makes his statement so appalling,” Sainz said. “Over 70 percent of the American public favors open service and military brass have said the integration of gay and lesbian service members has been a non-issue. Why would he want to mess with those two facts? The answer is simple. Because a return to discrimination appeals to a very narrow cross-section of voters that he’s going after.”
Once the GOP front-runner, Perry has fallen in the polls and remains unpopular with the Republican electorate with which he’s seeking support. A USA Today/Gallup published Tuesday found former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain tied with 21 percent of support, followed by U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich with 12 percent and Perry with 11 percent.
A transcript of the exchange between Amanpour and Perry follows:
Christine Amanpour: As president, would you reinstate “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — even if commanders, as they have done, have said that openly serving gays and lesbians have not many any difference to operational security or any kind of morale?
Rick Perry: I think you go back and sit down with your commanders in the field and have that conversation. I think “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” worked very well, and —
Amanpour: So you would reinstate it?
Perry: I think it worked very well.
Amanpour: But would you reinstate it?
Perry: I think the idea the president of the United States wanted to make a political statement using our men and women in the military as the tool for that was irresponsible.
Amanpour: Do you think it was a political statement?
Amanpour: So many allied governments — whether it’s Israel, whether it’s England or France — have done that and they say they have strengthened their armed forces, and you remember, during the Iraq war, there were so many gay people who couldn’t serve in desperately needed positions and that harmed national security. You would really reinstate it?
Perry: I don’t necessarily agree with your premise. What I agree with is that the president of the United States [was] changing policy that was working well — and to do it while we were at war in two different theaters, I think, was irresponsible. And I truly believe he did it to respond to his political base.
Amanpour: You were in the Air Force. Would you have been uncomfortable serving with openly gay members of the Air Force?
Perry: I don’t ask that question. I think that’s the issue right there. If an individual, in their private life, makes a decision about their sexuality from the standpoint of how they’re going to practice it, that’s their business. I don’t think that question needs to be asked. That’s the reason “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was, in fact, a workable policy, and that’s where I would be comfortable with our country going back to that.
Watch the video here (via Think Progress)