Many LGBT Virginians are disappointed at U.S. Sen. Jim Webb’s (D-Va.) vote against overturning “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Webb, a former Navy Secretary, was the sole Democrat to vote May 27 against an amendment to defense budget legislation that aims to repeal the military’s ban on open service by gays and lesbians. He’s chair of the Armed Services Committee Personnel Subcommittee.
In a statement released the day of the vote, Webb said he was waiting for the completion of a Department of Defense review on the matter and cited a May 24 White House letter and chiefs of all four military branches who concur that the study should be completed before Congress takes legislative action.
“I see no reason to pre-empt the process that our senior Defense Department leaders put into motion and I am concerned that many members of the military would view such a move as disrespectful to the importance of their roles in this process,” he said in the statement.
But several gay activists in Virginia and beyond who are following the repeal effort didn’t buy Webb’s explanation. Others said they weren’t surprised by the vote, yet found it disappointing.
“This is not totally unexpected,” said Del. Adam Ebbin (D-Va.), the only openly gay member of the Virginia General Assembly. “When Sen. Webb was a candidate, he was candid in that he at that time said he did not support repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ I suppose that his stated willingness to look at the reports demonstrates a small bit of progress, but when conservative Democrats vote to repeal the policy and move forward, it is extremely disappointing that Sen. Webb did not join them.”
Webb has supported other gay rights legislation. He voted for the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which Congress passed last year; he’s signed on as a co-sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act; and he opposes Virginia’s Marshall-Newman amendment, which bans same-sex marriage. He also made an appearance at a gay fundraiser in Arlington by Virginia Partisans when he was running for his Senate seat.
Several observers said there are enough provisions in the legislation regarding implementation that Webb’s concerns were unwarranted.
“We were disappointed with the senator’s vote because we felt the provision addressed all of the possible procedural issues,” said Claire Gastanaga, general counsel for Equality Virginia. “The way this is structured, the vote wasn’t on the process. This was just putting Congress on record that they support the decision. To cite the process is misplaced at this juncture.”
Virginia Partisans members are planning a letter to Webb to express their disappointment.
“This is legalized discrimination,” said Terry Mansberger, the group’s president. “This is a stall tactic. They’ve built into the legislation enough of a timetable to implement the repeal, but Webb is insisting on even longer time and more study. We don’t know what’s going to happen in Congress in November. We have the majority now and a supportive president. It’s time to move and not blow a golden opportunity. We can’t wait.”
The Human Rights Campaign and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network denounced Webb’s vote.
“There were many lawmakers who stood on the right side of history, but Sen. Webb disappointingly voted to maintain the kind of discrimination that hurts our national security,” said Michael Cole, an HRC spokesperson. “If you are interested in giving the military the tools they need to allow for open service, then the right vote would have been to repeal the law now with implementation pending the review.”
And SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis said the White House letter Webb cited is not an acceptable explanation because the legislation stipulates that no repeal action will occur before the Pentagon’s recommendations are reviewed by the House and Senate Armed Services committees.
“We are terribly disappointed in the senator’s vote,” Sarvis said in an e-mail. “He wrapped himself up in the procedure and failed to stand up and do the right thing.”