Democratic Rep. Martin T. Meehan yesterday said he will introduce legislation repealing the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that allows homosexuals to serve in the armed forces.
Mr. Meehan said public opinion has changed since the policy began 14 years ago under the Clinton administration, and that allowing homosexuals to openly serve will help the military retain specialized members, including linguists fluent in Arabic.
A 2005 Government Accountability Office report says more than 10,000 members of the armed services, including 750 service members with specialties “critical” to the war on terror, have been discharged since the policy was implemented.
“It will still be an uphill climb,” said Mr. Meehan of Massachusetts. “But the November election can only mean good things for my bill.”
The bill, “Military Readiness Enhancement Act,” has 109 co-sponsors, including three Republicans. Nonetheless, it faces opposition from many lawmakers, including House Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton, Missouri Democrat.
“It’s not going anywhere,” said Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, a group that opposes allowing homosexuals to serve in the military.
“Even the Democrats I’ve talked to don’t want to touch this bill. It’s very straight-forward, people who are homosexual are not compatible with the military’s standards of service.”
During the 1992 presidential campaign, Bill Clinton promised to change military policy by allowing homosexuals to openly serve. However, he reversed course after facing strong bipartisan opposition.
The policy says: “Sexual orientation will not be a bar to service unless manifested by homosexual conduct. The military will discharge members who engage in homosexual conduct. …”
Tony Snow, White House spokesman, said the President Bush supports the military policy.
“We will see what happens if Congress comes up with something,” Mr. Snow said.
Marine Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, the first solider injured during the Iraq war, joined Mr. Meehan during his Capitol Hill press conference yesterday and announced he is homosexual. He said he is leaving the Marines after 13 years to work for the Human Rights Campaign, a lobbying organization that supports gay rights.
“I’m an American who fought for his country and for the rights of all Americans, not just some of them,” Sgt. Alva said.
Public and military opposition to homosexuals openly serving in the military has decreased in recent years.
A December 2006 Zogby International poll found that 73 percent of military service members were “comfortable” serving with homosexuals.
“I hope we get beyond this foolish policy, and one that I think is cruel,” said Rep. Christopher Shays, one of the three House Republicans who has co-sponsored Mr. Meehan’s bill.
“The military isn’t saying gays can’t serve, they’re saying they can’t tell,” he said. “So, military commanders know there are gays in the military.”
Jon Ward contributed to this report.