Connect with us

National

Gay sex remains a crime under military law

‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal leaves sodomy ban unchanged

Published

on

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of SLDN, said his group’s top priority this year is to secure the certification by President Obama and military leaders for completing repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Much of the nation was riveted over the drama surrounding the congressional vote last month to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law barring gays from serving openly in the military.

But in a little-noticed development, Capitol Hill observers say Congress is in no mood to take a follow-up action recommended by Pentagon officials — the repeal of a longstanding military law that classifies consensual sodomy among both gay and straight service members as a crime.

Gay rights attorneys and experts in military law say the sodomy law provision known as Article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice has been rarely enforced in recent years in cases where sexual activity has been consensual and “fraternization” between officers and lower ranking members has not be a factor.

And the experts say a 2004 decision known as U.S. v. Marcum by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Services placed limits on the enforcement of Article 125 based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision one year earlier that declared state sodomy laws unconstitutional.

Yet because the military court did not overturn Article 125, its characterization of gay sex as criminal acts punishable by court martial will remain on the books until Congress repeals the statute, leaving in place what some activists say is an unfair stigma associated with gays and lesbians in the military.

Gay rights attorneys have said the Supreme Court could overturn the military sodomy law by affirming that the Lawrence v. Texas decision fully covers the military. But it could take years before a new military case reaches the high court.

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which has led efforts to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” said his group’s top priority this year is to secure the certification by President Obama and military leaders for completing repeal.

The repeal law passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in December doesn’t allow full repeal to take effect until the president, the Secretary of Defense and chair of the military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff determine troops and commanders are fully prepared for the change.

“So I would say no, that our top priority for this Congress is not the repeal of Article 125,” Sarvis told the Blade. “Do I think it should be repealed? Yes. Has SLDN been working over the last several years for repeal? Yes.”

Among those agreeing with Sarvis’ assessment is gay U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.).

“I’m skeptical and frankly at this point I don’t think it’s a good idea to press ahead with that one,” Frank said Tuesday, noting that gay rights opponents would likely use a debate on sodomy repeal in the military to push “hidden agendas.”

Sarvis summarized the views of other LGBT advocates when he said the Republican-controlled House would almost certainly refuse to even consider a bill to repeal Article 125. He said the need for pushing other LGBT-related issues in the military and other areas outweighs expending resources on Article 125.

Although Article 125 applies to gays and straights alike, gay rights advocates have said military authorities used it to target gay and lesbian service members in the past, especially in the years prior to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” If it remains on the books, some wonder whether a future president less supportive of LGBT rights might reinstate its full enforcement.

Longtime D.C. gay rights leader Frank Kameny, who assisted gay service members in the 1970s and 1980s, long before SLDN and other LGBT rights groups existed, said military investigators waged what he and other activists called “witch hunts” to identify and discharge gays on grounds that they violated Article 125.

Under Article 125, “any person subject to this chapter who engages in unnatural carnal copulation with another person of the same or opposite sex or with an animal is guilty of sodomy. Penetration, however slight, is sufficient to complete the offense,” the article states.

Under the 2008 version of the military’s official manual for courts martial, unnatural carnal copulation under Article 125 is defined as a person taking into his or her “mouth or anus the sexual organ of another person or of an animal…or to have carnal copulation in any opening of the body, except the sexual parts, with another person.”

Sarvis and Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, an arm of the University of Southern California that studies issues related to gays in the military, each said they know of almost no cases in recent times where service members, gay or straight, have been prosecuted under Article 125 for engaging in consensual sex in private.

The two noted that nearly all Article 125 prosecutions in recent years have involved additional infractions and violations, such as allegations of rape or sexual harassment or of sexual activity between an officer and a lower-ranking enlisted person.

The latter category of cases, known as fraternization, is considered a strong breach of military rules because sexual relations between an officer and a subordinate are believed to harm the system of order and discipline deemed important in the military.

Bridget Wilson, a San Diego attorney in private practice who has represented gay and lesbian service members for more than 20 years, said she agrees with Sarvis and Belkin’s assessment about the infrequency of Article 125 enforcement in recent years for consensual sex.

But Wilson said the pressure that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has placed on gay and lesbian service members to conceal their sexual orientation during the 17 years it has been in effect has led to many cases where service members “fabricate” a non-consenting allegation to protect themselves from being thrown out of the service.

If a service member ensnared in an investigation over alleged acts of sodomy admitted to having consented to such acts, Wilson said, it was equivalent to an admission to being gay and grounds for an automatic discharge under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“What I do see is false accusations of assaults,” she said in describing some cases faced by her clients. “You get a lot of, ‘I was so drunk last night I don’t remember a thing’ after he gets busted for having sex with another man.”

According to Wilson, some military prosecutors have interpreted impairment on the part of a service member due to alcohol consumption as a sign that the service member could not give true “consent” to a sexual act.

“So the problem with ‘I was so drunk that I don’t remember a thing’ is it could convert from [consensual] sodomy into forced sodomy with very serious consequences in the criminal courts,” she said.

With the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Wilson said she is hopeful that the perceived need by frightened service members to fabricate a non-consenting sex allegation to avoid being discharged from the service will become a thing of the past.

She said military authorities notoriously handled similar cases with straight couples engaging in alleged sodomy differently because there is no “straight” version of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“They might find themselves punished by losing a stripe or losing leave time—that sort of thing,” Wilson said. “For my same-sex clients, before ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ goes away, they’re out. They’re gone. And they’re probably facing administrative separation with an other-than-honorable discharge.”

In its widely publicized Nov. 30 report, the Pentagon’s Joint Service’s Committee consisting of top military leaders — which recommended the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ — also called on Congress to repeal Article 125.

The committee report points to both the U.S. v. Marcum decision, which limits the enforcement of Article 125, and the Lawrence v. Texas ruling that declared state sodomy laws unconstitutional as they pertain to consenting adults in the privacy of the home.

“In light of these decisions, we recommend that Article 125 be repealed or amended to the extent it prohibits consensual sodomy between adults, regardless of sexual orientation,” the report says.

“The other prohibitions considered punishable under Article 125, including forcible sodomy, sodomy with minors and sodomy that is demonstrated to be ‘service discrediting’ (i.e., in public or between a superior and subordinate), should remain on the books,” the report says.

Michael Cole-Schwartz, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, said HRC favors a prompt repeal by Congress of Article 125. He said the group also disagrees with the military court decision upholding Article 125 under some circumstances and feels the Supreme Court’s Lawrence decision, which overturned state sodomy laws, should also cover the military in its entirety.

“HRC expects that post-DADT repeal, Article 125 would only be used in circumstances involving non-consensual acts, so there should be no negative impact on gay and lesbian service members,” Cole-Schwartz said.

Former Army Lt. Dan Choi, who emerged as one of the nation’s most visible opponents of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” after being discharged under the statute, said he recognizes that Congress is unlikely to repeal Article 125 any time soon. But he criticized SLDN and other LGBT groups for not being more aggressive in pushing for its repeal at the present time.

“Leaders [should] do what is important and difficult and lead,” he said.

Bryan Thomas, a spokesperson for Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Senate Democratic leaders were reviewing the Pentagon report’s call for Congress to repeal Article 125. He said a Senate repeal measure would most likely be introduced as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Bill, but he had no further details by press time on whether or when such a measure would be introduced.

“We expect the administration to submit a legislative proposal for repeal or revision of Article 125 of the UCMJ, and such a proposal would certainly be carefully considered by the committee,” Thomas said.

Spokespersons for Republican and Democratic leaders in the House and Republican leaders in the Senate could not be immediately reached.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. EL

    January 17, 2011 at 11:24 am

    Revision to permit consenting adults to engage in sodomy is more likely to be acceptable than repeal of all article 125 especially the part with minors and animals. This will be used as a weapon against gay people by christian conservatives especially since they cannot get gay people thrown out anymore once repeal is fully instituted of DADT.

    This needs to be taken care of but I agree the GOP will not support it to please its base. But it’s possible enough will support a revision to allow consenting adults to do things in private leaving the other provision intact. Let’s be realistic.

  2. wondering

    October 31, 2012 at 6:39 pm

    Does it really matter what a person does with consenting adults?
    I have always wondered and been curious about having sex with another man, is it wrong for me to ask a man out and to go down on him, I think about it everyday does that make me Gay, should I just come out of the closet, the list of men is long, and I think about it all of the time, my biggest fear is catching something, bi and waiting for mr. big

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

National

Rachel Levine on becoming four-star admiral: ‘It comes from my desire to serve’

Trans official sworn-in to U.S. Public Health Service

Published

on

For Rachel Levine, the appointment to her new role as a four-star admiral complementing her existing duties as assistant secretary for health is another way for the first openly transgender Senate-confirmed presidential appointee to serve.

“I think that this just really comes from my desire to serve in all capacities,” Levine said in an interview Tuesday with the Washington Blade. “To serve the first day in my field of academic medicine and pediatrics, but then in Pennsylvania and now in the federal government, and it furthers my ability to do that.”

Levine, 63, also recognized the importance of the appointment as a transgender person within the U.S. Public Health Service, for which she was ceremonially sworn in on Tuesday

“I think for the LGBTQ+ community, it is a further sign of progress and our president’s commitment to equity, to inclusion and diversity,” Levine said. “So I think that it is a very important milestone, and I’m pleased to serve.”

As part of her duties, Levine will lead an estimated 6,000 public health service officers serving vulnerable populations, including deployments inside and outside the country for communities beleaguered with the coronavirus, according to the Department of Health & Human Services. The role involves working closely with U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murphy, whom Levine called her “friend and colleague.”

The U.S. Public Health Service, Levine said, has deployed “many, many times,” including its greatest number ever of deployments to vulnerable populations during the coronavirus pandemic. Among the places the service has deployed, Levine said, was in her home state of Pennsylvania, where she recently served as secretary of health.

Not only is Levine the first openly transgender person to serve in the uniformed health service as a four-star general, but she’s also the first woman to serve in that capacity.

“We have 6,000 dedicated committed public servants really all focused on our nation’s health, and they serve in details to the CDC and the FDA and the NIH, but also clinically with the Indian Health Service, and the federal prison system,” Levine said. “They’re also detailed and deployed throughout the country, and they deployed like never before for COVID-19 as well as the border, as well as dealing with floods and hurricanes and tornadoes.”

Although the Public Health Service is primarily focused on addressing public health disasters within the United States, Levine said it has a record of deployments overseas, including years ago when it was deployed to Africa under the threat of Ebola.

Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra had high praise for Levine in a statement upon news of taking on a leadership position in the service.

“This is a proud moment for us at HHS,” Becerra said. “Adm. Levine — a highly accomplished pediatrician who helps drive our agency’s agenda to boost health access and equity and to strengthen behavioral health — is a cherished and critical partner in our work to build a healthier America.”

Levine, however, was careful to draw a distinction between her appointment within the Public Health Service and being a service member within the U.S. armed forces.

“It is not a military branch, it’s not the armed forces: It’s a uniformed force, so it’s different,” Levine said. “For example, the Army, the Navy, our military, there are two other uniformed branches, and that is ours, the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and NOAA.”

The new role, Levine said, would complement her duties as assistant secretary for health. Although not only secretaries of health have been commissioned to take the uniform, Levine said she wanted to undertake that as part of her role in the Biden administration.

The two appointments were not simultaneous, Levine said, because of a general process she undertook, which was completed just this week.

It hasn’t been an easy road for Levine. During her Senate confirmation process, when she was hounded by anti-transgender attacks in conservative media and rude, invasive questioning by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on her gender identity.

Levine, however, said she hasn’t encountered any hostility regarding her new role (as of now) and shrugged off any potential attacks in the future and said the move is about her career “to serve and to help people.”

“I’ve continued that for our nation as the assistant secretary for health and this is just a further demonstration of my commitment to service,” Levine said. “I don’t know what others will say, but that’s the genesis of my wanting to serve in the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, and to place on the uniform.”

Levine’s new appointment comes shortly after a group of Democratic senators led by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) sent her a letter dated Sept. 30 calling on her and Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, assistant secretary for mental health and substance use, to issue new guidance for hospital or residential care on mental health needs of transgender people.

Asked about the letter, Levine said mental health issues are under the authority of Delphin-Rittmon and the two “will work together and we will respond.”

Specifically, the senators in the letter call on the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council, or BHCC, and experts in the field of adolescent trans care to offer guidance on best practices for inpatient mental health care among these youth.

Asked what the response will look like, Levine said, “We’re going to work on that.”

“We will be looking at what they’re asking for and the requirements, and we’ll talk with them and the stakeholders and we’ll look to issue appropriate guidance,” Levine said.

Continue Reading

National

Colin Powell, leaving mixed legacy on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ dies at 84

Key figure once opposed gays in military, then backed review

Published

on

gay news, Washington Blade, Colin Powell, gay marriage
Colin Powell leaves behind a mixed legacy on 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Colin Powell, the first ever Black secretary of state who served in top diplomatic and military roles in U.S. administrations, died Monday of coronavirus at age 84, leaving behind a mixed record on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

The world continues to grapple with the pandemic and the public grows increasingly frustrated with its persistence as many remain unvaccinated despite the wide availability of vaccines. Powell was fully vaccinated, according to a statement released upon his death. Powell reportedly suffered from multiple myeloma, a condition that hampers an individual’s ability to combat blood infections.

Rising to the top of the military as chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Powell supported in 1993 Congress moving forward with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a law that barred openly gay people from serving in the U.S. military.

During a key moment congressional testimony, Powell and other top military officials were asked whether or not allowing gay people in the military would be compatible with military readiness. Each official, including Powell,” responded “incompatible.” Congress would enact “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” that year.

Things changed when President Obama took office 15 years later and advocates for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” were eager to claim Powell’s voice among their ranks. After all, Powell was highly respected as a bipartisan voice after having served as secretary of state in the administration of George W. Bush and endorsing Obama in the 2008 election.

After the Obama administration in 2010 announced it would conduct a review of the idea of allowing gay people to serve openly in the military, Powell came out in support of that process. Advocates of repeal called that a declaration of reversal, although the statement fell short of a full support for gay people serving openly in the military.

“In the almost 17 years since the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ legislation was passed, attitudes and circumstances have changed,” General Powell said in a statement issued by his office, adding, “I fully support the new approach presented to the Senate Armed Services Committee this week by Secretary of Defense Gates and Admiral Mullen.”

Congress acted to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the policy was lifted in 2011. At the time, Powell was widely considered a supporter of ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and publicly counted among supporters of repeal, although the Blade couldn’t immediately find any statements from him to that effect.

In 2012, Powell had similar vaguely supportive words on same-sex marriage, saying he had “no problem with it” when asked about the issue.

“As I’ve thought about gay marriage, I know a lot of friends who are individually gay but are in partnerships with loved ones, and they are as stable a family as my family is, and they raise children,” Powell said. “And so I don’t see any reason not to say that they should be able to get married.”

The Blade also couldn’t immediately find any statement from Powell on transgender people serving in the military. After the Obama administration in 2016 lifted decades-old regulations against transgender service, former President Trump issued a ban by tweet the following year. President Biden reversed that ban and allowed transgender people to serve and enlist in the military in his first year in office.

Continue Reading

Texas

Texas House approves anti-trans youth sports bill

HB 25 now heads to state Senate

Published

on

GenderCool Project leader and Trans activist Landon Richie (Photo courtesy of Landon Richie)

Texas House Republicans were able to push through the anti-trans youth sports measure Thursday evening after hours of emotional and at times rancorous debate, passing the bill in a 76-54 vote along party lines.

Under the provisions of Texas House Bill 25, all trans student athletes in grades K-12 will be prohibited from competing on sports teams aligned with their gender identity. The bill will now head to the Senate, where it is expected to pass.

The Texas Tribune reported that the University Interscholastic League, which governs school sports in Texas, already requires that an athlete’s gender be determined by the sex listed on their birth certificate. Republican Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, the author of HB 25 has said the bill would simply “codify” existing UIL rules.

However, UIL recognizes any legally modified birth certificates. That policy could accommodate someone who may have had their birth certificate changed to match their gender identity, which can sometimes be an arduous process.

HB 25 would not allow recognition of these legally modified birth certificates unless changes were made because of a clerical error. It’s not clear though how it will be determined if a birth certificate has been legally modified or not. According to the UIL, the process for checking student birth certificates is left up to schools and districts, not the UIL the Tribune reported.

“To say that tonight’s passage of HB 25 is devastating is an understatement. For the past 10 grueling, exhausting, and deeply traumatic months, trans youth have been forced to debate their very existence—only to be met by the deaf ears and averted eyes of our state’s leaders,” Landon Richie, a GenderCool Project leader, University of Houston student and Transactivist told the Washington Blade after the vote.

“Make no mistake: This bill will not only have detrimental impacts on trans youth, who already suffer immense levels of harassment and bullying in schools, but also on cisgender youth who don’t conform to Texas’s idea of ‘male’ or ‘female.’ To trans kids everywhere: you belong, you are loved, you are valued, you are deserving of dignity, respect, care and the ability to live freely as your true and authentic selves, no matter where you are. We will never stop fighting for trans lives and a future where trans kids are unequivocally and unwaveringly celebrated for who they are,” Richie said.

“The cruelty of this bill is breathtaking, and the legislators who are pushing it forward are doing irreparable harm to our state. Texas is a place where people value freedom and respect for diversity. This bill is a betrayal of those cherished values, and future generations will look back on this moment in disbelief that elected officials supported such an absurd and hateful measure,” Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights told the Blade. “The families of these kids deserve better, and the burden is now on the rest of us to do everything in our power to stop this dangerous bill now,” he added.

During the debate on the measure, state Rep. James Talarico, (D-Round Rock), a former middle school teacher, began his remarks by apologizing to the trans kids and families who have gone to the Capitol time and time again this year. He tells the chamber he speaks now as a legislator, and educator, and a Christian.

He quoted Republican Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, the author of HB 25 who said “if one girl wins a game, it’s worth it.” He says he has a different moral yardstick. “If one trans kid dies for a trophy, this bill is grotesque.”

He ended speaking to his “fellow believers” in the chamber. “The worst part in these hearings have been in hearing the Bible used against trans kids to support these bills. Even tonight, ‘God’s law’ was used to present an amendment.” He then quoted the first two lines of the Bible, where God is referred to with two different Hebrew words, one masculine/one feminine. “God is non-binary.” He then prevented an interruption in the chamber and continued telling trans kids that he loves them.

Fellow Democratic state Rep. Jessica González, (D-Dallas County), vice-chair of the Texas House LGBTQ Caucus asked the chamber how many trans Texas kids they are willing to hurt. She reminded her fellow representatives that cisgender women and girls will also be hurt by the bill. She shared a personal story about being outed in high school by a friend, having her locker, home, and car vandalized and losing all of her friends. “Kids are cruel.”

González told lawmakers that her brother encouraged her to try out for soccer, and she was bullied with comments like “shouldn’t she be trying out for the boys’ team.” She went from feeling a bit accepted to being an outsider again. She then reflected on carrying those feelings into adulthood and said that this bill will have long-term affects on trans kids. She asked legislators to listen to the stories of the trans kids who have bravely testified, saying kids will contemplate suicide or complete suicide.

Representative Diego Bernal, (D-San Antonio), told the chamber that some representatives can’t wrap their heads around knowing that there is no problem but there is *real* harm to trans kids, and for whatever reason, that’s not enough it seems to stop moving these bills.

He said that he has heard “if they already have mental health issues and suicide ideation, this can’t make it worse” and “if the debate is harming them, let’s just vote.” The he breaks down the Texas statute’s definition of bullying, telling lawmakers, “The bullying statute doesn’t have an intent requirement. It doesn’t matter if you don’t mean to cause them harm. We are bullying these students. Know that by law … our own definitions and our own words, we are. And we don’t have to.”

“Texas lawmakers voted today to deliberately discriminate against transgender children. Excluding transgender students from participating in sports with their peers violates the Constitution and puts already vulnerable youth at serious risk of mental and emotional harm,” Adri Perez, policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas said in a statement to the Blade.

“There is no evidence that transgender kids pose any threat. It is indefensible that legislators would force transgender youth and their families to travel to Austin to defend their own humanity, then blatantly ignore hours of testimony about the real damage this bill causes. Trans kids and their families deserve our love and support—they’ve been fighting this legislation for months. Texans will hold lawmakers accountable for their cruelty,” she added.

The statewide LGBTQ+ advocacy group Equality Texas in a tweet after the vote said; ” We will not stop fighting to protect transgender children.” Then added “We’ll continue to educate lawmakers—replacing misinformation with real stories—and demand the statewide and federal nondiscrimination protections we need to prevent further harms.”

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @washblade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Popular