(CNSNews.com) – House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told CNSNews.com on Wednesday that homosexuals should be allowed to serve openly in the U.S. military.
Homosexual conduct is currently prohibited by the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and is cause for removal from the service.
Under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy instituted by President Clinton in 1993, however, the military does not ask recruits if they are homosexual, and homosexuals may serve as long as they do not talk their orientation or engage in conduct prohibited by the UCMJ.
According to a February 2005 study by the Government Accountability Office, 9,488 people were removed from the military between 1994 and 2003 because of homosexual conduct.
“The prohibition against homosexual conduct is a long-standing element of military law,” the GAO reported. “But in January 1993, President Clinton sought to fulfill a campaign promise to ‘lift the ban’ on homosexuals serving in the military. This led to the policy familiarly known as “don’t ask, don’t tell.” In exchange for the military services’ silence (“don’t ask”) about a person’s homosexuality prior to induction, gay and lesbian servicemembers, as a condition of continued service, would have to agree to silence (“don’t tell”) about this aspect of their life.”
Hoyer’s view is shared by many in the Democratic congressional leadership and by Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate.
“I was just at a ceremony in which we focused on the [racial] segregation of our armed forces,” Hoyer told CNSNews.com. (The ceremony commemorated the 60th anniversary of President Truman’s executive order integrating the Armed Forces.)
“People were asked to go and serve in harm’s way. They served courageously and many lost their lives. They came home to a country which said, ‘You can’t go to this restaurant, you have got to go to the end of the line, or you can’t participate in many of our activities notwithstanding what you did.’ They were not treated with dignity or respect. That’s wrong.”
“The criteria, as General [Colin] Powell just said [at the ceremony commemorating Truman’s segregation order], ought to be willingness and ability to commit yourself to accomplishing the objectives,” said Hoyer. “That ought to be the sole criteria for service in any area.”
Hoyer, however, would not commit the Democratic leadership to bringing the “Military Readiness Enhancement Act” to the House floor for a vote if Obama is elected. The bill would do away with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“Well, I would want to talk to Senator Obama about that. I haven’t heard his statement, but let me tell you what my statement is,” Hoyer told CNSNews.com.
Hoyer’s comments came just a few hours before the Armed Services’ Military Personal Subcommittee held the first hearing on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 15 years.
Those who favor barring open homosexuals from the military, including many Republicans, told CNSNews.com on Tuesday that they believe the policy is working and that altering it could hamper the military’s ability to operate.
Elaine Donnelly, president of the conservative Center for Military Readiness, told the subcommittee on Wednesday afternoon that allowing open homosexuals to serve in the military would be a mistake.
Donnelly said she believes that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is illegal because it allows undeclared homosexuals into the military even though homosexual conduct is prohibited. “Even the Defense Department doesn’t understand this,” she said.
“They know what the policy is, but they don’t know what the law is,” she said, “and they don’t understand the difference between the two.”