Saturday, December 18, 2010
Levin Floor Statement on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, delivered the following floor statement this morning in advance of the cloture vote on legislation repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell.” The text is as delivered.
The Armed Services Committee held two excellent hearings to consider the final report of the Working Group that reviewed the issues associated with the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” That report concluded that allowing gay and lesbian troops to serve in the United States armed forces without being forced to conceal their sexual orientation would present a low risk to the military’s effectiveness, even during a time of war, and that 70 percent of the surveyed service members believe that the impact on their units would be positive, mixed or of no consequence at all. As one service member told the Working Group: “All I care about is can you carry a gun, can you walk the post.” And in combat, Mr. President, the troops have told us that what matters is doing the job.
Now we learned also during the course of our hearing that while predictions of problems after repeal were higher in combat units than among other troops, that this commission found that difference disappeared among those who had actual experience serving on the front lines with gay colleagues. That is, experience is a powerful antidote to negative stereotypes about gay service members.
And we learned that when our close allies Great Britain and Canada were preparing to allow open service by gay and lesbian troops, that there were concerns which totally disappeared after they changed their policy to allow service. That level of concerns in our allies’ armies was higher than the current level of concern in our troops.
Both of those countries, and other allies like Israel, made the transition with far less disruption than expected, and their militaries serve alongside ours in Afghanistan with no sign that open service diminishes their, or our, effectiveness.
Secretary Gates has assured everybody that he is not going to certify that the military is ready for repeal until he is satisfied with the advice of the Service Chiefs that we had, in fact, mitigated, if not eliminated to the extent possible, risks to combat readiness to unit cohesion and effectiveness. We learned that Secretary Gates, Admiral Mullen and other senior military leaders are concerned that unless we pass this law, without this legislation, that they’re going to be forced to implement a change in policy, not when they can certify they are ready, as provided for in this legislation, but when a court orders a change. The only method of repeal that places the timing of the repeal and control of implementation in the hands of the military leaders is enactment of this bill.
So there’s a lot of reasons why repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” can and will hopefully happen, and we know can happen without harming our military’s effectiveness.
Now those are the reasons why we can do this safely, but there are other reasons why we must end this discriminatory policy. A policy which in Admiral Mullen’s memorable words, “forces young men and women to lie,” – to lie – “about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.” We should end this policy because it is the right thing to do.
Some have argued that this is social engineering, or this is partisan, even though this change is supported by the overwhelming majorities of the American people. They are grossly mistaken.
Mr. President, I’m not here for partisan reasons. I’m here because men and women wearing the uniform of the United States who are gay and lesbian have died for this country, because gay and lesbian men and women wearing the uniform of this country have their lives on the line right now in Afghanistan and Iraq and other places for this country.
One of those is a captain by the name of Jonathan Hopkins. He finished fourth in his class at West Point; commanded two companies, one in combat; and earned three Bronze Stars, including one for valor in combat. And yet that decorated combat leader had to leave the Army because of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
I am here because of Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, the first ground-unit casualty of the war in Iraq. The first casualty in the war in Iraq was a gay soldier. The mine that took off his right leg didn’t give a darn whether he was gay or straight. We shouldn’t either.
We cannot let these patriots down. Their suffering should end. It will end with the passage of this bill. I urge its passage today.
This is an amazing, historic day.
— Steve Clemons