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The 2010 elections and 'don't ask, don't tell'

By Jonathan Capehart

An interesting outcome of the Republican tsunami is that two men on opposite sides of the debate over repeal of the ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military went down in defeat. Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), the straight Iraq War vet elected in 2006, wore out the soles of his shoes working the halls of the House to secure the votes need to repeal 'don't ask don't tell.' Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), chairman of the House armed services committee who has been in Congress since 1977, was against lifting the ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military.

Like most social issues, gays in the military was not front-and-center in the 2010 midterms. Skelton told Time magazine that other than the press only one constituent asked him about his support for don't ask don't tell. In preparation for an appearance on MSNBC on Monday I asked a friend who had spent the weekend in Murphy's district helping to drum up support if the ban was an issue in the campaign. "I don't think it's much at all," he replied.

With worry over the economy and jobs the number one issue, this is not surprising. But allowing gay men and lesbians to serve their county openly was -- and remains -- a big deal for many. It is not only a moral issue -- how can we continue to demand that servicemembers lie about who they are? It is also a civil rights issue -- how can we continue to deny people the right and privilege of serving this nation because of who they are? And it's a character issue.

A couple of months or so ago, the Good Men Project, a new online men's magazine that launched in June, asked me and 14 other journalists and thinkers to nominate someone for a feature on "The Top Ten Good Men Politicians." I nominated Murphy.

That the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell passed the House of Representatives is due to the tireless and strategic efforts of Rep. Patrick Murphy. The Iraq War veteran and West Point instructor worked the halls of the House for more than a year to line up the votes needed to get it done. And he did this while representing a district that is more conservative on the issue than he is. Murphy knows this could cost him his seat. But if you ask him, he'll tell you that he'd rather lose his seat because he did the right thing than to win reelection by doing nothing.

In an interview last month with the Huffington Post, Murphy said he had no regrets about picking up the banner of don't ask don't tell repeal after then Rep. Ellen Tauscher joined the State Department in 2009. "I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution as an Army officer and as a congressman," he said. "I take that oath to heart, and I'm going to fight for the values that are in our Constitution. I'm going to fight to make sure that our military has the best personnel policy that it can, and that means repealing the outdated and the dangerous don't ask, don't tell policy."

Congress needs more like Murphy. Lawmakers who take on tough issues, work hard to change hearts and minds on both sides of the aisle and hunt for areas of common ground to bring about change. President Obama has pushed as much as he can from the White House to end the gay ban. But it is an act of Congress that needs another act of Congress to repeal it. That the official dismantling of don't ask don't tell is a Senate vote away is due to a good man named Patrick Murphy.

By Jonathan Capehart  | November 3, 2010; 9:47 AM ET
Categories:  Capehart  | Tags:  Jonathan Capehart  
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But it is an act of Congress that needs another act of Congress to repeal it.

Why do you continue to insist upon this as the only way for DADTDP to be repealed?

The 3rd branch is there to determine whether congressional actions are constitutional - so there is 1 other way to accomplish this.

The President may issue an executive order ending DADTDP, which is another way. The great Obama won't take such a stand - well, maybe he will if he gets his 2nd term, but he won't until then. And, with all of his statements to date, he won't even then.

Posted by: Greent | November 3, 2010 11:52 AM | Report abuse

Given that SCotUS will NOT overturn (see their prior ruling) the House now won't either. DOA so to speak.

Oblather could have EASILY passed this through congress in the 1st six months of his term. He didn't as he doesn't really care about it. Ha also opposes gay marriage so this was no surprise to those with an IQ>50...

Posted by: illogicbuster | November 3, 2010 1:08 PM | Report abuse

The leadership of the gay community always oversells what is possible and then stands back and watches as the rank and file self-immolate.

It's tiresome, boring, and thankless to remind everyone that heterosexuals have rights too. Blacks have been successfully integrated into the military. They bunk, bathe, and dress in the same areas as whites. Women have not been completely integrated into the military. They do not bunk, bathe, and dress in the same areas as men.

DADT protects the privacy rights of heterosexual men and women. To end it, the military will have to build private sleeping, bathing, and dressing areas for each recruit and soldier.

What gays and lesbians need is a firebrand federal judge who will stand up for justice and demand that the military stop billeting soldiers on the cheap. The judge can decree private bunking, bathing, and dressing areas for each recruit and soldier. Halliburton can build it. Congress can add it to its deficit.

Where oh where can we find a federal judge with the courage and boldness to stand up decree what is right and just for all our citizens?

Posted by: blasmaic | November 3, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

Greent, I'm not sure you understand the term "repeal."

Even a declaration by the Supreme Court that a law is unconstitutional does not repeal that law: it only enjoins its enforcement. The unenforceable law remains on the books for all to see and read.

And were the President to order under his stop-loss authority a halt to DADT, this would not repeal the law: it would only temporarily halt its enforcement until such time as the war or other emergency under which the stop-loss ban is declared is over. And even were some state of martial emergency to continue indefinitely, such an order could be reversed at any time by subsequent executive order.

The only way to repeal DADT is to repeal DADT: an act of Congress DOES need a second act of Congress to repeal it.

Posted by: jstyles1 | November 3, 2010 8:49 PM | Report abuse

"DADT protects the privacy rights of heterosexual men and women."

No, it doesn't. In the first place, if you're in the communal shower you don't have any privacy, DADT or no. In the second place, DADT says there are gays in the shower with you, so long as they don't "tell." It's going to be hard to show that repealing DADT makes any difference in terms of privacy rights.

Posted by: fzdybel | November 3, 2010 10:41 PM | Report abuse

jstyles1: thanks for the english lesson. (no sarcasm)

The remainder of my post stands, if you replace REPEAL with CEASE ENFORCEMENT. There are ways to stop the actions of this law, other than congressional repeal.

Stop-Loss... that is not an executive order. Truman did not use Stop-Loss, he made an executive order. yes, future preseidents could have undone this order, they did not.

Posted by: Greent | November 4, 2010 2:34 PM | Report abuse

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