Editors' Note: Ashwin Madia is a graduate of Osseo High School and received his undergraduate degree from the University of Minnesota. After graduating law school, he chose to enlist in the United States Marine Corps in 2002. He served as a prosecutor, defense counsel, and legal advisor, and served in Baghdad beginning in 2005. In 2006, he completed his active duty and practiced law in the Twin Cities. Madia announced his candidacy for the 3rd Congressional District of Minnesota in October 2007 and won the Democratic (DFL) endorsement on April 12, 2008.
I am a Marine Corps veteran, an Iraq war veteran and the Democratic candidate for Congress in Minnesota's Third District, so I hear a lot about patriotism these days. But real patriotism sometimes means taking on the system if you know what you're doing is the right thing. As a Marine Corps lawyer, I was one of the first attorneys to successfully defend a gay Marine from discrimination by the military.
In 2005, my client, Private First Class (PFC) Smith [real name not disclosed], was found to have downloaded gay pornography onto a government computer. On the exact same day, another Marine was found with straight pornography on his government computer. The straight Marine received a verbal reprimand by the commanding officer. The gay Marine was given: a demotion in rank, loss of pay, restricted in his movements on base, and most severe of all, an administrative separation from the Marine Corps with an Other-Than-Honorable (OTH) discharge, just one step below a court martial.
An OTH discharge is typically reserved for Marines who exhibit a serious pattern of misconduct over time -- disobeying orders, talking back to superior officers, chronic patterns of not showing up or failing physical examinations. An OTH discharge means you lose all your veterans benefits and it shows up on every college application and future job application for the rest of your life.
I presented PFC Smith's case to a review panel composed of senior Marine officers and enlisted Marines. This isn't a typical jury made up of soccer moms and high school gym teachers. I argued that there was no justification for the disparity in punishment given to the straight Marine and PFC Smith. Ultimately, the Panel overruled the commanding officer's recommendations and retained PFC Smith. Overruling a commanding officer's recommendation is a rare event in the Marines. In fact it's so rare that I never saw it happen again during four years of being a lawyer in the Marine Corps.
The panel's decision shocked quite a few people. But that's not the best part of the story.
PFC Smith still had to go back to duty and I was afraid he would be targeted by his peers with harassment or that he might even face physical threats. I kept in touch with him and not long afterward, I checked in to see how things were going. When PFC Smith got on the phone, he was calm and his voice level toned. He said, "Sir, nobody cares about that stuff."
If the Marines, some of the most conservative members of our society, can look beyond sexual preference, maybe the rest of America can do so too. If someone is willing to wear the uniform, fight, and possibly die for this country, it shouldn't matter who they are and who they love.
Ever since the start of my campaign, I have been reaching out to members of the LGBT community because I strongly believe in full equal rights for all lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans. I have been endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign, eQualityGiving.org, and by Minnesota's Stonewall DFL (Democrats).
We need pragmatic problem solvers in Washington, not people who put their political ideology ahead of principles. It's time for a few more patriots in Congress and a few less politicians.
I am asking for your help. To donate to the campaign, you can visit http://www.democracyengine.com/page/amfc/. This is an open seat and one of the top House races in the country. With your help, we can help move the fight for equality forward in Congress.