Last year, it was an honor to sponsor and fight for legislation to end the discriminatory “don’t ask, don’t tell” law that, for nearly two decades, barred otherwise qualified openly gay Americans from serving the country they love in the military. As an Army officer, I saw how wrong it was that patriots serving our nation were forced to disobey the core military values of honesty and integrity in order to defend the very freedoms that make our country great.
Heroes like former Maj. Mike Almy, investigated under “don’t ask, don’t tell” while deployed to Iraq, were wronged. Sadly, he was removed from his unit at a critical time because he sent an email to someone back home. He was forced to leave behind his fellow airmen. It’s for heroes like Mike — and more than 14,000 servicemembers discharged under this unjust law — that inspired Congress to act last year.
Repeal is not — and never has been — a partisan issue. More than 80 percent of Americans supported repeal, and legislation in the House and Senate was passed on a bipartisan vote. In December, President Barack Obama promptly signed the bill into law, and repeal training is currently under way in all branches. Repeal will be final 60 days after the president, the secretary of Defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify that the military is ready for the transition. We expect this to occur shortly.
Yet, a small and increasingly vocal group of repeal opponents is seeking to turn back the clock on repeal. Even now, as my former colleagues in Congress begin work on the National Defense Authorization Act, these extremists have made it clear that they will offer amendments aimed at delaying, defunding, or even completely derailing the legislation we fought so hard for last year.
Alongside these opponents in Congress, a number of potential presidential candidates have expressed support for “repealing the repeal” of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
To all of these opponents of repeal, I say this: Listen to our nation’s most senior military leaders. And let’s return our focus to where it should be — fighting terrorism and protecting American families.
In a hearing last month called by the new majority on the House Armed Services Committee, the service chiefs testified, one by one, to a single, undeniable fact: Training and implementation for “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal is proceeding smoothly and presenting no significant challenges for our nation’s servicemembers in any of the branches. To ignore the testimony of these seasoned leaders and attempt to undo a military personnel policy change of this nature would be extraordinary, unprecedented and improper. Indeed, it does not represent the way we conduct military affairs in this country. We do not revisit these matters simply when the power shifts from one party to the other.
Congress should not suddenly stand in the way of the military’s steadfast progress on implementing Congress’ own legislation, approved in a bipartisan manner and signed by the president just months ago. We must see this through. If we do, it will be only a few short months before every man or woman who wishes to fight for this country will have the opportunity to do so and we can put this unfortunate and discriminatory chapter of American history behind us once and for all.
Patrick Murphy, a Democrat, represented Pennsylvania’s 8th District in the House of Representatives from 2007 to 2011.