Breaking: House panel seeks delay of DADT repeal
by Lisa Keen
The House Armed Services Committee approved three amendments late Wednesday night that seek to delay implementation of repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell and to reiterate Congress' support for the Defense of Marriage Act.
The May 11 votes were largely along partisan lines and are unlikely to be sustained in the Democratic-controlled Senate, even if they are approved by the Republican-dominated House.
But the question is whether they might survive a Senate-House conference committee, when compromises have to be hammered out between two increasingly contentious parties.
None of the proposed amendments sought to undo what Congress did last December when it passed legislation to repeal the military's ban on openly gay and lesbian service members, but each provided yet another forum for debate over repeal.
The committee debated for more than 40 minutes on an amendment over whether to require that each of the chiefs of the four combat branches of the military provide written certification to Congress before repeal can be implemented. The amendment passed 33-27.
It then debated for less than 20 minutes an amendment to reiterate that DOMA applies to the military. The amendment passed 39-22.
And it debated for 13 minutes an amendment to reiterate that decisions concerning use of military facilities and personnel for conducting same-sex wedding ceremonies are governed by DOMA. That amendment passed 38-23.
Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, called the amendments "an assault on our nation's senior military leaders and rank-and-file service members, who are marching toward open military service successfully."
"These adopted amendments to delay and derail repeal are a partisan political attempt to interject the same-sex marriage debate and other unrelated social issues into the [budget authorization legislation] where they have no place," added Sarvis.
Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the amendments were intended "to slow down open service and perpetuate scare tactics about the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'"
Three different Republican members of the House Armed Services Committee proposed the amendments during the panel's consideration of the annual bill authorizing how the Department of Defense can spend its funding. The overall bill is known as the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 (or bill number H.R. 1540). Fiscal Year 2012 begins October 1.
Representative Duncan Hunter (R-California) first introduced his measure, called the "Restore Military Readiness Act," as a stand-alone bill, in January. It has 25 co-sponsors. It seeks to require that certification of military readiness to implement repeal of the ban on gays in the military be done by the chiefs of the four branches of the military, in addition to the certifications already required from the president, the secretary of defense, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Hunter, who represents the San Diego area, during debate claimed that "60 to 70 percent" of Navy SEALS oppose repeal of DADT. The SEALS have been the subject of enormous public attention and praise recently, after successfully capturing and killing terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.
Representative Susan Davis (D-California) the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee that received Hunter's original measure, reminded the full committee that the four service branch chiefs testified at congressional hearings that they believe their views are heard and respected by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen. Davis also represents a San Diego area district.
Representative Hank Johnson (D-Georgia) lamented that the House continues to debate DADT repeal.
"Having openly gay people serve in our military is not apocalypse," said Johnson, "it's a sign of progress." He also reminded committee members that when President Harry Truman moved to integrate the military, there were some who opposed it.
"I think it's a similar situation here with 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,'" said Johnson.
Representative Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) read a letter from a gay veteran from World War II, supporting repeal of DADT.
Currently, President Barack Obama, Gates, and Mullen are expected to certify the military as ready to implement repeal of DADT this summer. The repeal would then take effect 60 days later. Given how difficult it has been for the Senate and House to agree on budget matters in recent months, it seems possible that the 60-day waiting period will expire and DADT will be repealed long before a Senate-House conference committee will have a chance to tackle the issues.
The second amendment came from Representative Vicky Hartzler (R-Missouri). It seeks to emphasize that DOMA still applies to DOD regulations and policies. Hartzler said the amendment would address situations such as the recent conflict over whether Navy chaplains could preside over same-sex marriages and allow such ceremonies to take place on military bases.
Representative Randy Forbes (R-Virginia) and others claimed the amendment was necessary because the Obama administration was "not enforcing" DOMA, so it is necessary to reiterate Congress' support for the law. No one spoke to correct that claim. The Obama administration made clear it would continue enforcing DOMA until such time as the courts may find it unconstitutional. But it did say it would no longer defend DOMA as passing all constitutional levels of scrutiny in all federal courts.
The third amendment, from Representative Todd Akin (R-Missouri), would prevent the use of military facilities or personnel for marriage ceremonies between same-sex couples. Akin's amendment, like that of Hartzler, was in reaction to an April 13 memo from the Navy's chief of chaplains recommending military facilities be available for use at same-sex marriage ceremonies in states where marriage licenses are available to same-sex couples. The chief also recommended military chaplains be allowed to participate in such ceremonies, if their religious beliefs allow them to.
But on Tuesday, May 10, the Navy chaplain chief, Mark Tidd, "suspended" his earlier recommendations, saying they needed to undergo "additional legal and policy review and interdepartmental coordination."
ABC News reported that a group of 63 Republicans had sent a letter to the secretary of Navy, expressing objections to Tidd's initial recommendations.
"Make no mistake," said SLDN's Sarvis, "these votes should be a wake-up call to supporters of open service that our work is not done. Our commitment to timely certification and repeal must be redoubled as we move to the House floor to defend the progress we have made to ensure that LGB patriots can defend and serve the country they love with honesty and integrity."
Representative Steven Palazzo (R-Mississippi) was reportedly ready to introduce an amendment to delay implementation of DADT repeal in order to develop and issue new regulations concerning how to handle service members who have religious or moral objections to openly gay people in the military. He did not do so.