Key Senate Committee Hears Testimony On Discriminatory "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Policy

March 18, 2010 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – At a hearing today before the Senate Armed Services Committee, several former armed forces officers urged repeal of the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” statute. The statute, passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton in 1993, states that openly lesbian and gay individuals pose “an unacceptable threat to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability,” and prevents gay and lesbian individuals from serving openly in the military. Today’s hearing was the first congressional hearing since President Obama’s call for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in his January State of the Union address to feature those whose military careers were ended as a result of the policy.

An act of Congress is needed to repeal the law and the American Civil Liberties Union strongly urges Congress to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” this year. There are bills pending in both the House and Senate to repeal the policy.

“The time has come to end ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “For nearly two decades, gay and lesbian Americans have lived with the threat of being discharged under this policy simply for being who they are. Congress has the ability and obligation to put an end to this discriminatory policy.”

Testimony was heard at today’s hearing from “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” proponent retired U.S. Marine Corps General John J. Sheehan and two veterans, former Air Force Major Mike Almy and former U.S. Navy Lieutenant Junior Grade Jenny Kopfstein, who were prematurely terminated as a result of the statute.

President Obama and several high-ranking military leaders, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael G. Mullen, have called for an end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Last month, Secretary Gates announced a 45-day period to examine steps the Pentagon could take on its own to lessen the impact of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” without having to wait for Congress to repeal it. That review period is due to end Friday, March 19.

“We should not ask anyone willing to fight and die for our country to hide their family and loved ones,” said Christopher Anders, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel. “Our men and women in uniform deserve the opportunity to serve their country with dignity, regardless of whether the soldier or sailor is gay or straight. With the backing of the president, Congress is finally poised to finish this long march toward equality. With bills pending in both chambers of Congress and with the support of our president and our military, Congress should not miss this historic opportunity.”

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