The 2010 elections and 'don't ask, don't tell'
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.
| November 3, 2010; 9:47 AM ET
Categories: Capehart | Tags: Jonathan Capehart
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