Slogging Towards Repeal

09/06/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Aubrey Sarvis Former Executive Director, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network

The House broke a record last month when 18 more Members signed on to co-sponsor the bill to repeal, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" that Patrick Murphy, two-term Democrat from Pennsylvania and the first Iraq war veteran to be elected to Congress, is quarterbacking through the House. The bill, H.R. 1283, now has 168 co-sponsors, a new high since repeal was first introduced five years ago. We can thank Congressman Murphy for that monthly record and those 168 co-sponsors. Fifty more and it's ready. But hold the cheers. The game won't be over.

Advocates of repeal couldn't have asked for a more impassioned supporter or a better quarterback. Anyone who saw his last appearance on Rachel Maddow's show knows that, and if you didn't see it, you can watch it here. You'll be glad you did. After you've listened to Rep. Murphy, you'll know exactly why DADT has to be repealed by Congress, which passed the law in the first place, the same year that Patrick Murphy, following in the footsteps of numerous family members, signed up. The nation's armed forces are stretched thin, very thin. Repeal of DADT is a national security issue, first and last.

"It's our job as a Congress to get a backbone, to have the courage to get [repeal] passed," he told Rachel Maddow. "Now is the time to repeal it." It would be hard to doubt that he means it. He's served with gay men and women. He's seen gays discharged for one reason alone, because of who they are, not for what they did, because they did nothing but their duty. What a waste!

No one could question the Congressman's credentials -- Captain in the elite 82nd Airborne Division, a Bronze Star on his chest, former professor at West Point, husband and father. Forget apple pie, the apple-cheeked Congressman is as American as the Fourth of July. And, as he says, "If you are American you've got to believe in equality -- for everybody."

Oops! I spoke too soon. I forgot the unforgettable Elaine Donnelly, who could (and does) question not only the Congressman's credentials but disparages his military record and derisively refers to H.R. 1283 as "Murphy's New LGBT Law." You can get the details at Human, the self-described "Headquarters of the Conservative Underground" and also home to "the peerless Ann Coulter."

In Washington we measure out our progress in incremental steps. Blustering and finger-pointing, posturing and dramatic gestures seldom carry the day. Remember the tortoise and the hare? The race is not to the swift. The race is to those who do the real legwork, the foundation-building, and, yes, the sometimes firm cajoling that bring in the votes. It's a long hard slog to the finish line. It's not glamorous, it doesn't often get your name in headlines, and there's a lot of drudgery involved. It works by fits and starts -- but it works. Eventually.

We saw some of that before the House fled the Capital for their August recess. Two Young Turks, Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Rep. Patrick Murphy, actually engaged House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton in a discussion on the House floor about repealing DADT. While Mr. Skelton didn't appear all that eager to take part in the conversation, he did make a commitment to his younger colleagues that his committee would conduct another much-needed hearing on DADT this year.

Mr. Skelton wants to hear from the as yet unnamed Deputy Secretary for Personnel and Readiness in the Department of Defense because that person will ultimately be responsible for making the sale to Congress and then implementing the new policy in the military. Chairman Skelton also wants to hear from Defense Secretary Gates and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mullen. That's a given.

In the Senate, Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) has committed to the first Senate hearings on DADT in 16 years. He's got a number of powerful allies who are ready for action, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Dan Inouye. And he's got the President asking Congress to send him a bill that he can sign.

There are growing signs that the Obama Administration is bracing itself for the hearings, which are sure to be televised live by C-SPAN and possibly other networks as well. Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen know the hour is coming. I don't think we will hear Admiral Mullen making the case his predecessor in that job, Colin Powell, made in 1993, that being gay or lesbian is not compatible with military service. Admiral Mullen graduated from the Naval Academy in 1968, one year after the "Summer of Love," the year that Senators Eugene McCarthy and Robert F. Kennedy showed President Johnson the handwriting on the election wall, and shortly after Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated, followed two months later by Robert Kennedy himself. Having lived through those turbulent times as a young man, I suspect that Admiral Mullen, like most Americans, will not be fazed by gays serving openly under his command.

August is quiet in Washington, though a lot of heat will be generated in the hustings as House and Senate members head home to hear what the men and women who elected them are saying. But all of them, including the President, need a summer break. It's been a tough few months and the forecast is for a hot, tough autumn on the Hill.