Yesterday, the House Armed Services Committee heard testimonies from leaders in the armed forces on the impact of last year’s repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The hearing was one of the first full committee discussions of the topic in the House of Representatives since repeal of the law was mentioned by President Obama in last year’s State of the Union address.
Such delayed discussion is one of the many concerns surrounding the reversal of the 1993 law banning open homosexuals from serving in the armed forces. A new paper from the Heritage Foundation highlights how last year’s campaign to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was marked by hurried legislation and limited deliberation. The short time frame between the Pentagon’s Comprehensive Review Working Group (CRWG) report on the steps involved in changing the law and votes in Congress left concerned lawmakers and citizens little time to raise important questions about potential free speech and religious liberty ramifications. Likewise, the two brief hearings on the Pentagon’s 400-page report – held only in the Senate – and the limited debate time and prohibition on amendments all but excluded exploration of the CRWG’s often ambiguous recommendations.
Without adequate deliberation on the ramifications of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” military chaplains and service members with moral and religious concerns were left with many unanswered questions: Can chaplains teach that homosexual conduct is immoral as they see appropriate? Can they participate in marriage counseling that promotes marriage between a man and a woman? Are service members allowed to civilly disagree with and discuss the policy change without risking their careers?
Answers to these and other questions should be addressed by Congress and the Department of Defense. Specifically, Congress should monitor the repeal implementation process through hearings in both the House and Senate and conduct an independent survey of service members to determine the effects of the repeal on military readiness, unit cohesion, and religious liberty in the armed forces. The Department of Defense should likewise seek to clarify the rights of chaplains and service members to civilly express religious or moral views on the repeal and on the underlying policy issues.
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