WASHINGTON — The House introduced a bill yesterday that would overturn the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell’’ policy on gays, a move intended to pressure the Senate to delay its holiday adjournment plans and take up its own repeal bill.
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland, and Representative Patrick Murphy, a Democrat of Pennsylvania and a veteran of the Iraq War, cosponsored the bill, and a vote was expected as early as today.
“This discriminatory and harmful policy has weakened America’s security by depriving us of the work of tens of thousands of gay and lesbian troops who have served their country honorably,’’ Hoyer said in a statement. “And it has severely compromised our Armed Forces’ core value of integrity.’’
Repeal advocates see this week as their last best shot at overturning the policy, which bars gay soldiers from openly acknowledging their sexual orientation. Next year, Republicans take control of the House and additional Senate seats, severely undercutting the chances that any Democratic priority will advance come January.
Senators Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, and Joseph Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, had introduced the Senate’s stand-alone bill last week. Its fate, however, has been clouded because the Senate faces a series of pressing issues with only days to go before it planned to conclude its lame-duck session. Also, any Senate action on the Lieberman-Collins bill would have required House approval in the same tight timeframe.
By voting first in the House, that concern would be eliminated. Also, House sponsors submitted identical language to the Lieberman-Collins bill, in hopes of streamlining the process.
The move put pressure on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, to keep the Senate in session past this weekend to wrap up any unfinished business. Jim Manley, a spokesman for Reid, said the majority leader is planning a vote on the bill before adjournment.
Proponents of the repeal still face stiff resistance in both the House and Senate. The congressional debate comes as the head of the Marine Corps told reporters that lifting the ban during wartime could cost lives.
“I don’t want to lose any Marines to the distraction,’’ said Commandant General James Amos. “I don’t want to have any Marines that I’m visiting at Bethesda [Naval Medical Center] with no legs be the result of any type of distraction.’’
Amos has previously said that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly could cause “distractions’’ and “risks’’ for combat units. But his remarks yesterday were the first time that a senior military leader has publicly suggested that repealing the law could endanger troops and lead to more battlefield casualties.
Other senior military officials have countered that changing the law during wartime is preferable because troops are more focused on survival than a colleague’s sexual orientation.
Also, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has called for Congress to repeal the policy so that the Pentagon can control how the change is implemented. Otherwise, the federal courts could order an immediate repeal, a possibility that would be disruptive to combat forces, Gates has said.
Material from the Washington Post was included in this report.