Veterans to lobby for the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don't tell’ policy

Hundreds of veterans on Tuesday will urge lawmakers to repeal this year the ban on openly gay personnel serving in the military.

The approximately 350 veterans from 44 states will lobby lawmakers as the House and Senate Armed Services committees prepare to write the 2011 national defense authorization bill.

ADVERTISEMENT
Supporters of the repeal, both in Congress and the outside arena, are eyeing the defense authorization bill as the vehicle to carry legislation scrapping the Clinton-era law, known as “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”

In the Senate, the veterans are focusing in particular on six members of the Armed Services panel: Sens. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), Jim Webb (D-Va.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Scott Brown (R-Mass.).

The hundreds of veterans lobbying include many from the “key states” that have members on the Armed Services panel, said Michael Cole, the new-media campaign director at Human Rights Campaign, which organized the lobby day along with Servicemembers United and a broad coalition of organizations supporting the repeal.

More than a third of the veterans coming to Capitol Hill hail from Florida, Virginia, West Virginia, Massachusetts, Indiana and Nebraska. They include gay, straight and lesbian service members.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who co-sponsored the repeal legislation with fellow committee member Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), needs 15 votes on the panel to be able to include the legislation in the bill before it goes to the full Senate. The repeal legislation would be much harder to strip by its opponents once it is on the Senate floor.

One of the hurdles Levin and Lieberman have to overcome is Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ opposition to repealing the ban before the Pentagon finishes its yearlong study on the impact the change would have on the military. That study is expected to be completed by Dec. 1.

Those pressing for repeal this year have stressed that the legislation Congress approves could delay the implementation of the repeal to accommodate the Pentagon study and its findings.

Levin “is making every effort to work with Secretary Gates and accommodate his concerns,” including working on language that would reflect a “delayed coordination” to accommodate the Pentagon’s study, said Aubrey Sarvis, the executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), an organization dedicated to the repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” SLDN is also partnered with Human Rights Campaign and Servicemembers United for the lobby day.  Levin’s spokeswoman Tara Andringa said the senator does not yet know “what will be introduced during mark up.”

“Levin is looking at options to bring about the winning 15 votes for repeal,” Sarvis said.

Convincing Gates that repeal legislation won’t hamstring the Pentagon’s efforts could also be essential in winning some critical votes on the Armed Services panel. For example, Webb agrees the policy is in need of evaluation, but supports the military’s yearlong approach to studying the implications of the repeal.

ADVERTISEMENT
The veterans will also spend time talking to House lawmakers. The strategy for repeal in the House appears to be a reversal of the Senate strategy. The House Armed Services Committee is not expected to include any repeal legislation in the bill it will send to the House floor. Instead, the repeal would come as an amendment to the defense authorization bill. 

Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), the main sponsor of the House repeal legislation, indicated he would not back away from his efforts to scrap the law this year, despite the Obama administration’s push to see the study finished first.

The House Armed Services Committee is starting consideration of the 2011 defense authorization bill this Wednesday, May 12. The Senate panel will start its consideration on May 25.