Rep. Murphy, Iraq veteran, takes helm of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ fight
July 4, 2009
WASHINGTON — Rep. Patrick Murphy wants to repeal "don’t ask, don’t tell" as soon as possible, with or without the president’s help.
"I don’t work for the president," the Pennsylvania Democrat said in an interview with Stars and Stripes. "We don’t need to wait."
This week Murphy, a former Army captain who served in Iraq, will take over as lead sponsor of the House bill to repeal the 16-year-old law banning homosexuals from serving openly in the military.
His office will unveil a new public push on the issue Wednesday: Face-to-face visits with every member of the House on the issue, a Web site listing facts and myths about the rule, and a goal of passing the legislation this year.
The White House last week reiterated its goal of overturning the law, and Obama spoke on the issue at a reception with gay advocacy groups.
“I know that every day that passes without a resolution is a deep disappointment to those men and women who continue to be discharged under this policy,” Obama said. “But what I hope is that these cases underscore the urgency of reversing this policy not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it is essential for our national security.”
Gay rights advocates point out that Obama still has yet to show real progress on his campaign promise to change the law. Since the start of his presidency 277 troops have been discharged under the law, and about 13,000 have been discharged since 1994.
Liberal think tank Center for American Progress released a road map for repeal last month, calling for a simultaneous executive order stopping the law and legislative action in an effort to move the issue ahead.
“The longer you wait on this issue, the longer it takes to seize momentum,” said Lawrence Korb, senior fellow at the center. “Congress can take the lead on this. It was Congress over opposition from the military that dropped the ban on women flying combat aircraft and serving on combat ships.”
Korb and some advocacy groups have argued that Obama need not wait for Congress, and could simply overturn the law on his own with a wartime executive order allowing gays to serve openly.
But both the White House and congressional leaders have stated that changes must come from the legislative branch, and officials from the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network have argued that such an order could be vulnerable to legal challenges.
Opponents of repealing the “don’t ask” law are girding for a fight.
“If they go ahead with this, there are going to be protests, there are going to be lawsuits, and this is going to be taken to court,” said the Rev. Billy Baugham, executive director of the International Conference of Evangelical Chaplain Endorsers.
Baugham said he believes any change in the “don’t ask” law will face an immediate legal challenge. His group is lobbying lawmakers to leave the law alone, but he said he would not rule out lawsuits to block servicemembers from serving openly.
“This is a matter of readiness, and it’s going to break down the relationship between soldiers who are forced into close quarters,” he said. “ ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ is fine at this point, and for that to be destroyed is criminal and outrageous.
Murphy is unconcerned about those challenges. He believes Congress can still repeal the law this year, and thinks his experience in the ranks will help convince some reluctant lawmakers to support the change.
“People ask why does an Irish-Catholic guy who’s straight and married care so much about [overturning] ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ ” he said. “And I tell them it’s because this is something I believe in. It’s a failed policy that hurts national security.
“We all knew people who we served with who were gay, and it didn’t affect their job,” he said. “It didn’t affect me personally. But they were discriminated against, and that shouldn’t be.”
Murphy’s Web site advocating a change in the law — www.letthemserve.com — will launch Wednesday.