Tauscher praises ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ hearing

The House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Susan Davis, D-San Diego, today held a hearing reviewing the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gay and lesbian servicemembers. Here’s Davis’ opening statement:

Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo, is carrying H.R. 1246, the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, which would which would prohibit any sexual-orientation discrimination in the armed forces. (She stepped up to become the bill’s main sponsor more than a year ago, when original sponsor Marty Meehan left Congress.)

“This is the first opportunity we’ve had in 15 years to have a Congressional hearing on the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy, which was a compromise policy back in 1993 and which I believe is an unsuitable policy for the civil rights reasons… I believe it is discriminatory to gays and lesbians based on their sexual orientation,” Tauscher told me after today’s hearing, noting that with our military readiness crisis due to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, “this is not the time for us to be separating perfectly qualified, able-bodied Americans who choose to serve… because of their sexual orientation.”

Tauscher noted Congressional leaders gathered earlier today to commemorate President Truman’s executive order 60 years ago that marked the beginning of racial integration in the armed services; she hopes future lawmakers will celebrate the passage of her bill. “I think the American people understand… that this is perhaps the last issue we’ll have to deal with to have true integration in the military.”

But “it’s something we cannot move to repeal right now,” she said – it’ll have to wait for “the next Congress with a new president.” That’ll have to be presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, who has said he supports repealing the current policy; presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain opposes doing so. Tauscher said she’s proud to carry the legislation and will reintroduce it in January.

Enacted in 1993, the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy bars anyone who has had sexual or romantic contact with someone of the same sex from serving in the armed forces, and requires gays, lesbians and bisexuals not to disclose their sexual orientation or discuss their relationships while serving. It also requires that so as long as these troops keep their sexual orientation a secret, commanders can’t investigate their sexuality. It was introduced as a compromise by President Bill Clinton, who’d campaigned for the White House on a promise to let everyone serve openly.

The Washington Post reported Sunday that a Washington Post-ABC poll conducted July 10-13 found 75 percent of Americans in believe gay people who are open about their sexual orientation should be allowed to serve in the U.S. military, up from 62 percent in early 2001 and 44 percent in 1993. Support from Republicans has doubled over the past 15 years, from 32 to 64 percent. More than eight in 10 Democrats and more than three-quarters of independents now support the idea, as did nearly two-thirds of self-described conservatives.

Testifying today in favor of overturning “don’t ask, don’t tell” were retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Vance Coleman, a former artillery officer and division commander; retired U.S. Navy Capt. Joan E. Darrah, a former Naval intelligence officer; and retired U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, a wounded Iraq war veteran. Testifying against gays serving openly in the military were Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, and U.S. Army Sgt. Maj. Brian Jones, a retired Special Operations officer.

“I think there was a stark contrast in the witnesses,” Tauscher said. “Certainly Elaine Donnelly is someone who used I think pretty discriminatory, prejudicial language when she made assertions without any fact-based science behind her, without any real concrete evidence” about gay and lesbian behavior.

See some of the testimony, after the jump…



Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Pa., Congress’ only Iraq war veteran, jousts with Donnelly:

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.