- Feb 4, 2005
- Reaction score
- Saint Paul, MN
- Political Leaning
Republican lawmaker urging end to 'don't ask, don't tell' policy
At odds with her party's leadership, Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida is urging the Pentagon to end ``don't ask, don't tell'' and allow gay men and lesbians to join and remain in the military.
``We've tried the policy. I don't think it works. And we've spent a lot of money enforcing it,'' said Ros-Lehtinen, a member of the Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations, who became a co-sponsor of the bill on Tuesday.
``We investigate people. Bring them up on charges. Basically wreck their lives. ... People who've signed up to serve our country. We should be thanking them,'' she said.
Although her support won't change the law overnight, it represents a dramatic break with GOP leadership over a hot-button issue that has split the party and the nation.
Ros-Lehtinen, along with House Republicans Christopher Shays of Connecticut and Jim Kolbe of Arizona, joins 70 Democrats in support of the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, introduced by Rep. Marty Meehan, D-Mass., last month to repeal the longtime gay ban.
``Don't ask, don't tell'' became law in 1993, a compromise after President Bill Clinton sought to relax military policy and allow gays to serve openly. The law, which easily passed in both the House and Senate, prohibits commanders and investigators from prying into a service member's sex life, but calls for military discharge if someone in the armed service acknowledges he or she is gay.
``It doesn't make any sense,'' Ros-Lehtinen said of the ban. ``There's no scientific evidence that sexual orientation has an effect on the ability to perform as a military officer or a buck private.''
Nearly 10,000 men and women have been discharged under ``don't ask, don't tell,'' which has cost the U.S. government more than $200 million to enforce since passage in 1993, according to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network , a Washington gay-rights group.
Last week, an Army sergeant who was awarded a Purple Heart after being wounded in Iraq publicly disclosed his homosexuality. He risks going to jail and an early discharge from the service.
``I know a ton of gay men that would be more than willing to stay in the Army if they could just be open,'' Sgt. Robert Stout, 23, told The Associated Press. ``But if we have to stay here and hide our lives all the time, it's just not worth it.''
Ros-Lehtinen, 52, said the military ``should get the best men and women regardless of their sexual orientation.''
``It doesn't seem the best military tradition to exclude people because of their sexual orientation,'' she said. ``They can serve with as much distinction as anyone else.''
Ros-Lehtinen's husband, former acting U.S. Attorney Dexter Lehtinen, 59, was awarded a Purple Heart for severe facial injuries he received during Army combat in Vietnam. And her stepson, Douglas Lehtinen, 28, is a Marine officer scheduled to be deployed this summer to Iraq.
``We've had these discussions in our family,'' Ros-Lehtinen said. ``Douglas would have no problem serving alongside anyone who's capable.''
``In Iraq and Afghanistan we are fighting alongside coalition forces that have in them gay men and women,'' Ros-Lehtinen said. ``England is actively recruiting gay men and women to join their armed forces.''
Ros-Lehtinen said she has heard the arguments against allowing them to serve (straight men not wanting to shower with gay men, etc.) and that they're ``ludicrous.''
``It's the same kind of talk we heard about women serving in the military and African Americans,'' she said.
Congressmen Alcee L. Hastings, D-Fla., and Robert Wexler, D-Fla., also are co-sponsors of lifting the gay ban.
``If you're in the military, the only concern should be if you shoot straight - not if you are straight,'' Hastings said.
The bill - which has no companion legislation in the Senate - has a long way to go before becoming law. First, it needs to get out of committee.
``The odds are very small, unless the top military brass would embrace it,'' Wexler said. ``When was the last time it snowed in South Florida?''
U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, has consistently voted against gay-rights issues, according to Human Rights Campaign, a pro-gay Washington group that ranks lawmakers on a scale of 0 to 100, 100 being the highest level of support.
Hunter ranks 0; Ros-Lehtinen ranks 86, according to HRC's 2004 report.
Two years ago, HRC sent Ros-Lehtinen a thank-you note for ``the totality of her record, not just one vote.''
Ros-Lehtinen ``has really taken a leadership issue on repealing the military's gay ban among Republicans,'' said Steve Ralls, communications director for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.
``Her endorsement, her sponsorship of the bill, is going to lead a lot of other moderate Republicans in the House to come on board,'' he said.