Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
It's been in effect for 17 years. Openly gay, lesbian or bisexual men and women can't serve in the armed forces. Specifically, they’re barred from showing a tendency toward homosexual acts. The policy also prevents the military from rooting out those hiding their sexual preferences. Still, estimates suggest as many as 13,000 people have been discharged, and thousands more decided not to re-enlist because of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.
The Palm Center, through Freedom of Information Act requests, compiled data on who had been forced out of service. Among them: "49 nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare specialists, 90 nuclear power engineers, 52 missile guidance and control operators, 150 rocket, missile and other artillery specialists, and 340 infantrymen."
On Thursday, May 27, the House of Representatives passed by a vote of 234 to 194 the Defense Authorization bill, which included an amendment to end DADT. The same day, the Senate Armed Services Committee passed a repeal, as well. Sometime in the next month or two, there will be votes on the bill in the House and Senate.
Some Republicans remain firm against the measure, and Sen. John McCain said he supports a filibuster of the entire Defense Authorization bill because of the DADT amendment.
If it passes, President Obama is expected to sign the measure in the fall. The Pentagon will have to deliver a report to Defense Secretary Robert Gates by Dec. 1. So it's not likely DADT will expire until 2011.
On top of the logistical hurdles, there is plenty of outcry against a repeal. The military's archbishop, Timothy Broglio, warned that the effect could be overwhelming. Rep. Ike Skelton, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he thought DADT should remain in place because he didn't want families to have to explain homosexuality to their kids.
So where do New Mexico's congressmen stand on the issue? The Alibi contacted all five to find out.
Rep. Martin Heinrich, CD 1—Central New Mexico, including Albuquerque
The congressman co-sponsored the original bill to repeal DADT. "It's a basic equal rights issue," he said. "If somebody's willing to pick up a rifle and defend my family and my country, I don't care if they're gay or straight." He had no reservations about voting in favor of the defense bill that passed the House, he said. When he spoke to the Alibi, Heinrich had just returned from a trip to Afghanistan. "One of the places we're really short on resources over there are people with language skills," he said, "and we're kicking gay translators out of the military?"
The 234 to 194 vote that passed the measure was fairly close and fell along party lines, Heinrich said. "The Republican caucus is just out of touch on this issue." If you ask any 25-year-old, Democrat or Republican, they're in favor of repealing DADT, he added. "But when you go to Congress and you're dealing with people who've largely been there for a long time—most of them are in their 50s or 60s or 70s—there is a sharp divide between the parties."
Rep. Harry Teague, CD 2—Southern New Mexico
A review of the repeal was conducted by Defense Secretary Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Both support ending the policy. Teague said he voted in favor of allowing Gates and Mullen to make the decision. "In the midst of two wars, it goes against logic to deny American citizens the right to serve their country based on anything other than their skills in the field," he said.
Some will turn the vote into a campaign issue this season, he acknowledged. "But I think that national security is too important an issue for that."
Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, CD 3—Northern New Mexico, including Santa Fe
Congressman Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.) has been pushing a repeal since he was elected, said Lujan, and he should be commended. " I think Murphy said it best when he said our troops deserve a Congress that puts our safety and our collective national security over rigid, partisan interests and a close-minded ideology." When Gates and Mullen testified before Congress, they both said it's not a matter of whether the military prepares to make the change but how to best prepare for it, Lujan added.
He said the repeal has been made into a political wedge issue. "That has to stop. The American people are tired of that."
Sen. Jeff Bingaman
The senator is on the Armed Services Committee and voted in favor measure. He also supported it as a stand-alone bill.
Sen. Tom Udall
Udall quoted longtime Arizona senator and 1964 Republican presidential candidate, the man known as Mr. Conservative, Barry Goldwater: "You don't have to be straight to shoot straight." Ending the discriminatory policy is the right thing to do, Udall said. "For almost two decades, Don't Ask, Don't Tell has placed an unjust burden on qualified service members who are forced to hide who they are in order to defend our country."