Rep. Martin T. Meehan (D-Mass.) reintroduced legislation yesterday that would lift the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban on openly gay and bisexual military personnel.
“Wasting taxpayer dollars by discharging competent service members under ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ doesn’t make sense,” Meehan, chairman of the House Armed Services Sub-Committee on Oversight and Investigations, said at a Washington, D. C., press conference yesterday.
“It is long past time that we act to repeal it,” he added.
Meehan’s bill, the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, was first introduced in 2005 and is supported by more than 100 Democratic co-sponsors and three Republicans.
The Defense Department’s policy prohibiting openly gay individuals from serving in the armed forces was first enacted in 1993 and has been a lighting rod of controversy at Harvard over the past decade.
In 2004, Harvard Law School banned military recruiters from using the school’s career services office, but the school decided to reverse course when the Pentagon threatened to cut off more than $400 million in federal funds to the University in 2005.
Last March, the Supreme Court upheld the legality of the Solomon Amendment—a law which permits the secretary of defense to cut off funding to schools that do not allow recruiters on campus—clearing the way for military recruiters to continue using the Law School’s facilities.
If Meehan’s legislation passes, the president of Lambda, Harvard Law’s student gay rights group, said that he believes the number of protests on campus directed at military recruiters would decrease.
“I think that the opposition to military recruiting on campus was largely due to the fact that a career in the military wasn’t open to all students,” Lambda President Adam R. Sorkin said.
“If the ban is lifted, I think the number of protests would diminish greatly.” he added.
Sorkin said that he believes the number of gay individuals and students serving in the military would increase if the ban were to be lifted.
“A lot of people who are gay and would like to serve in the military don’t because being closeted is very difficult in that environment,” he said.
“I think it would change, for sure,” he added.
The Law School’s director of communications, Michael A. Armini, said that the school would continue to allow recruiters on campus if Meehan’s legislation is passed.
“They’ll be here, and they’ll be here even if ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is repealed,” Armini said. “We have military recruiters on campus today, and we would have recruiters on campus even if this policy were changed.”
The legislation comes on the verge of what appears to be shifting public opinion regarding the military’s ban. While a 1993 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed that only 40 percent of people favored allowing openly gay people to serve in the military, a 2006 Zogby poll showed that 73 percent of military personnel were comfortable with gays and lesbians.
The Military Readiness Act received bipartisan support from seven Republicans when it was first introduced.
The House, under the leadership of a newly elected Democratic majority, will hold hearings on the issue this spring for the first time since 1993.
Steve Ralls, director of communications for the Service Members Legal Defense Network, said that the hearings will present an opportunity to increase the level of bipartisan support.
“The hearings are immeasurably important,” he said. “They are an opportunity to educate members of congress, and are an important way to present the evidence.”
Meehan has yet to find a counterpart in the Senate to introduce the legislation, according to Bryan DeAngelis, Meehan’s press secretary.
—Staff writer Kevin Zhou can be reached at email@example.com.