WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. Senate failed Tuesday in its effort to bring to the floor for consideration a military authorization bill that would overturn bans on open homosexuals serving in the armed forces and abortions in military facilities.
The 40 Republican senators present for the roll call stood together in opposition to invoking cloture on the annual Department of Defense authorization measure. They were joined by Democrats Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, both of Arkansas, as well as Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. Reid’s vote was a procedural move that will enable him to bring the bill back up later. GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska was not present for the vote.
Invoking cloture, which overcomes a delaying tactic known as a filibuster and brings legislation to the Senate floor, requires 60 votes. The roll call was 56-43 in favor of cloture, with all 54 Democrats and two independents supporting the move.
Supporters of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” believe its reversal will curtail the religious liberty of those in the military whose opposition to homosexual conduct is based on the Bible. They also say it will undermine military readiness, cohesion, privacy, recruitment and retention.
“Along with millions of social conservatives, I am delighted that the Senate has turned back a substantial challenge to the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “The military is not a social experiment. The military is organized and designed to win wars. Making the military a lab for social innovation and experiment in a time of two wars is foolhardy and dangerous. I am grateful that enough senators understand this and have defeated this latest challenge to the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy.
“I am also grateful that the provision in this bill that would allow privately funded abortions to take place in military facilities has been blocked,” Land told Baptist Press. “This is a good day for the American military and a good day for unborn Americans.”
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said in a written statement, “This is a victory for the men and women who serve our nation in uniform. At least for now they will not be used to advance a radical social agenda.”
Land urged Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and his party in a Sept. 16 letter to oppose the bill and back a filibuster unless the contentious provisions are deleted.
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — which was enacted in 1993 — prevents homosexuals from serving openly but also prohibits military commanders from asking service members if they are homosexual or about their “sexual orientation.”
The other controversial amendment added to the Defense authorization bill in committee would eliminate a restriction on elective, privately funded abortions in military health-care facilities that has been in place for the last 14 years. The proposal would not affect the ban that exists on publicly funded abortions at armed services hospitals.
Conservatives’ concerns about infringements on religious freedom seemed to be authenticated in the days leading to the cloture vote.
The Washington Times reported Sept. 16 that Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick, an Army deputy chief of staff in charge of personnel matters, told troops in August at European Command headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, “Unfortunately, we have a minority of service members who are still racists and bigoted and you will never be able to get rid of them. But these people opposing this new policy will need to get with the program, and if they can’t, they need to get out. No matter how much training and education of those in opposition, you’re always going to have those that oppose this on moral and religious grounds just like you still have racists today.”
Popular singer Lady Gaga, who has 6.4 million Twitter followers, argued at a rally in Maine Monday that “we’re penalizing the wrong soldier.” Instead, she said, the military should eject “the straight soldier whose performance in the military is affected because he is homophobic.”
“I would like to propose a new law: a law that sends home the soldier that has the problem,” she said to a cheering crowd. “Our new law is called, ‘If You Don’t Like It, Go Home.’ … It sends home the soldier who fights for some freedoms, for some equalities, but not for the equality of the gay.”
In response to the singer’s comments, Perkins said Reid “apparently doesn’t realize that if everyone with traditional values leaves the military, virtually no one will be left to defend our country.”
Meanwhile, it was announced Sept. 17 an additional 25 military chaplains have signed onto a letter expressing religious liberty concerns regarding a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The letter to President Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, first sent in April, now has 66 signers. The signers — some of them Southern Baptist — are from all four military branches and have nearly 1,700 years of combined service.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona led the Republican opposition to the effort to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Along with others, he criticized the effort to enact the reversal before a review of the policy and a survey of military personnel and their families are complete.
“Give them a chance to tell us their views,” McCain said on the Senate floor Tuesday before the vote. “Whether you agree or disagree with the policy, whether you want to keep it or repeal it, the Senate should not be forced to make this decision now before we have heard from our troops. We have asked for their views, and we should wait to hear from them. All four service chiefs have said the same thing — let’s conduct the survey … and then act on whether to repeal or not repeal.”
Gates implemented a comprehensive review of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in March. As part of the study, the Pentagon elicited feedback from military personnel and their families. Gates said in April he believes “in the strongest possible terms” that the review should be complete prior to any legislative action. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen and the chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines also said Congress should not act until the review of the current policy has been completed.
The House of Representatives and Senate began acting in May, however, only three days after the White House and congressional leaders reached an agreement on a way to enact repeal of the ban. Under the agreement and subsequent legislation, repeal would not go into effect until the Pentagon has finished a study of the issue Dec. 1. The agreement requires that Obama, Gates and Mullen sign off on repeal of the policy. All three are on record in support of repeal.
Obama promised during the 2008 election campaign to overturn the ban. During his State of the Union speech in January, the president said he would work for repeal this year.
Gen. James Amos, Obama’s nominee as the next commandant of the Marine Corps told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee he does not support repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” it was reported by the Christian Science Monitor Tuesday. Amos would be a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The Senate Armed Services Committee forwarded the measure providing for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to the full Senate in a 16-12 vote in May.
The House approved a similar provision on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” the same day in a 234-194 vote. Members later passed the overall Defense authorization legislation in a 229-186 roll call.
The Senate Armed Services Committee passed the amendment repealing the abortion ban in a 15-12 vote. The House version of the Defense authorization bill does not contain the abortion language. If the Senate eventually passes an overall bill that includes the abortion provision, its fate in the final version would be negotiated in a conference committee of members of both houses.
The ERLC sent an alert to its constituents Monday encouraging them to ask their senators to oppose the legislation.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief of Baptist Press. Michael Foust, an assistant editor of Baptist Press, contributed to this article.