Rep. Murphy attempts to repeal military ban on gays

Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.) has taken up the mantle as the chief opponent of "Don't ask, don't tell" in Congress, and he's confident the policy banning gays from serving openly in the military will get its first full committee hearing in a decade and a half this session.

Murphy, a second-term Democrat, will be lead sponsor of the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, which would repeal "Don't ask, don't tell" — a policy first passed by Congress and signed into law under President Bill Clinton.

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"It's our job," Murphy said of a repeal. "This was an act of Congress in 1993 and it will take an act of Congress" to reverse it.

The measure got a subcommittee hearing last year, but Murphy says Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has promised him a full committee hearing on the bill this session.

And though gay-rights groups have been critical of the Obama White House for what they see as a lack of attention, advocates of repealing the 16-year-old policy see new evidence that the administration is willing to move on reversing "Don't ask, don't tell."

President Obama has said he would sign a repeal, and the Pentagon has begun studying ways to only selectively enforce the policy until a repeal happens. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last week that lawyers would find new ways to reduce application of the law.

Murphy also pointed to Rep. John McHugh (R-N.Y.), Obama's nominee to become secretary of the Army. McHugh participated in the hearing on repeal last year, and Murphy said he trusts the New York Republican to follow the president's lead.

Murphy's bill had been championed by ex-Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), who was confirmed last month as undersecretary of State for Arms Control.

But with Murphy taking over, the bill is getting new momentum. In the week he's been lead sponsor, Murphy, an Iraq war veteran himself, has attracted six additional co-sponsors; Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) was the latest to sign on when he joined the bill Tuesday. Murphy said he is targeting fellow Blue Dog Democrats and members of the House Armed Services Committee as potential backers.

Murphy called Levin's support important. Levin's brother, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

On Wednesday, Murphy joined the Human Rights Campaign, Servicemembers United and other gay-rights organizations in launching a new national push to reverse the policy.

No Senate equivalent has been introduced, though Murphy says he has been encouraged by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), either of whom may introduce the measure.

"We will have the votes in the House. I can't speak for the Senate," Murphy said. But, he cautioned, "It's going to take a few months."