Chuck Wolfe

Our missing voice in the Senate

Filed By Chuck Wolfe | February 04, 2010 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Arizona, Don't Ask Don't Tell, gays in the military, John McCain, LGBT, Senate, Victory Fund

John McCain has become a leading Senate opponent of repealing the military's ban on openly gay servicemembers, even as top Pentagon officials say they want Congress to repeal the law that makes them enforce the policy. Many believe a repeal effort will pass in the House of Representatives, but right now it appears most Senate Republicans, led by McCain, and a handful of fearful Democrats might come together to block repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."


The House and Senate are very different institutions with different rules and different politics at play, but something else separates the two legislative bodies: there has never been an openly gay or lesbian U.S. Senator, whereas six openly gay and lesbian U.S. Representatives have served in the House. Sometimes called members of "the world's most exclusive club," no U.S. Senator has ever had to interact with an openly gay colleague with the same vote, the same voice and the same power as him or her. That's a problem our community should work to fix.

Throughout the contemporary legislative battles surrounding hate crimes, employment non-discrimination, the military ban and even health care, Senators interested in hearing the LGBT perspective have had to rely on aides, lobbyists or constituents, none of whom wield the power of a vote in the Senate. But in the House, Reps. Tammy Baldwin, Barney Frank and Jared Polis are given prime speaking spots and great deference during similar debates, and their experiences and judgment are afforded respect by colleagues who want to do the right thing. It's more difficult to work with and know someone like Tammy Baldwin and her partner and then vote against a measure that recognizes their humanity or the importance of their relationship.

Senator McCain has known openly gay elected officials in Arizona for years--people like former Congressman Jim Kolbe and former Tempe mayor Neil Giuliano. But imagine if the state's voters elected an openly LGBT person to represent Arizona alongside him in the Senate. Would he be so quick to suggest that men and women like his colleague should lie about who they are to be able to serve in the U.S. military? Would he defend the right of employers to fire men and women like his colleague simply because of their sexual orientation? Or would he come to know them as an equal?

Right now the LGBT community is building its bench of out elected officials who will soon be ready to run viable campaigns for the U.S. Senate. Today these leaders are running for and winning seats in state legislatures, on city councils and as mayors. These campaigns are important down payments on a future where authentic LGBT voices will no longer be absent from the highest reaches of the American government.

We need an openly LGBT voice in the U.S. Senate. Supporting candidates now who one day will break through that glass ceiling makes a great deal of sense.

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As I have said before, the Democrats should be rejoicing over the fact they no longer have their majority! I mean after all it takes 60 or more Democrats to pass a bill, yet the Republicans do it on 51. Having 60 votes the Democrats had to work real hard at looking busy but doing little or nothing for many who put them there. Besides if they actually passed the all the legislation for the LGBT community they would not have anything to offer us over anyone else anymore. Politics baby. That is the name of the game. Give them only what they have to in order to keep them hooked.

MoreThanTheMinimum | February 4, 2010 1:40 PM

Yes, we need some out Senators and more out Congresspersons.

BUT I'd rather have a straight representative with the courage to challenge the moral cowardice and duplicity of someone like Obama to ACT not just SPEAK on LGBT equality than the shameful "give him time" apologists that Frank, Baldwin, and Polis have become.

As for your theoreticals about McCain the answer is YES because he has become so morally decayed at his core that no amount of time with no amount of out LGBT representatives around him can save him.

If you doubt me just look up what he said at the memorial for gay 9-11 hero Mark Bingham and contrast what he's said and done since.

I dunno. There are plenty of homophobic House members even though they've had to be "equals" to queer people in the past.

Although some leadership on these bills in the Senate wouldn't hurt any. Frank for Senate in '12?

Frank for Senate in 2012? It doesn't look likely to me. If Frank has any interest to become a Senator, why did he pass up a near-perfect opportunity recently: he could have tried for the seat vacated by the death of Ted Kennedy and to which Republican Scott Brown has just been elected. There was no serious talk about Frank to my knowledge, even though he would have been a stronger candidate than Crowley and even though that Vote #60 was so crucial to the Dems. The only reasonable conclusion is that Frank is quite comfortable in the relatively powerful position he has now in the House, heading up the House Financial Services Committee.

Correction: Coakley, not Crowley. Wish I could call this a typo but actually it was more like a brain fart.

Bruce in Missouri | February 4, 2010 5:17 PM

If you watched the committee hearing, Sen. Levin explained to Sen. Leiberman that if the provision to repeal DADT were part of the defense budget, it would take 60 votes to remove that provision. Attaching the repeal to the military budget would mean you don't need 60 votes to repeal DADT. The problem comes in the House because the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee is Ike Skelton (D-MO). Ike Skelton told C-SPAN he wants to keep DADT in place. As the chairman, I believe he has the ability to remove a DADT repeal measure from the defence budget. So getting this past Ike Skelton is going to be a challenge. We need people to call Ike Skelton's office, and for Speaker Pelosi and other members of the Armed Services Committee and the Personnel Subcommittee to put pressure on Ike Skelton not to remove a DADT repeal provision from the defence budget. People really need to pay close attention to Ike Skelton!

As I understand it, DADT repeal can advance without going through HASC and Ike Skelton (can go thru subcommittee chaired by Susan Davis and bypass HASC), but it goes nowhere without getting out of the SASC. Right now we don't have the votes in the SASC due to four Democrats who are not fully onboard yet. The two Nelsons, Bayh and Webb are those we need to convince. If any of you have connections in Indiana, Nebraska, Florida or Virginia I urge you to have those constituents write these Senators and advocate for repeal in 2010.

Brian Lynch | February 9, 2010 1:32 PM

Patriotism Is Not Defined by Sexuality.

That’s right, Patriotism. National pride, duty, honor, courage, commitment and the intestinal fortitude to show it. Hopefully in a year or so this will be a moot point, but until then, we ought to remind ourselves as often as possible that any man or woman in this country willing to lay it all on the line for Lady Liberty ought to be afforded the opportunity, regardless of their sexual orientation.

We have enough enemies in this world; dangerous, lethally skilled, motivated, if not fanatical combatives determined to end our existence. We need not further induce any self-inflicted wounds by dismissing intellectually competent and highly skilled service members based on antigay agendas. Make no mistake about it, the current law has left our troops with a paucity of talent in several critical areas vital to our success in the fight, and essentially our national security.
As a nation, we need to apply our best efforts into every aspect of military might. That being said, understand the military is a discerning body, and a biased organization – if you’re flat footed, can’t see colors well, are obese, physically handicapped, or cannot pass the ASVAB test, among others, you cannot serve. Period. These restrictions exist for preserving, among others, safety and performance of our troops. A personal choice on sexuality is no more applicable than a religious choice, and it does not belong in the debate. It’s flagrant discrimination. Period.

Let's not over-engineer the mechanics in this imminent reform. The bureaucrats will change the law and sleep in warm, dry beds, safely out of harm's way. In time, the military will follow suit. Given their brutally difficult missions, I doubt too many of our beloved troops are going to take pause to question DADT being repealed. They're IN a real fight.

America’s lineage is rife with legislation considered preposterous by today’s standards. Pick one: women’s voting rights, eugenics, racial integrity, minorities voting, alcohol prohibition, civil rights, women on warships. These are old, tired, dare I say immature arguments that unfortunately became law; indicative of insular, polar thinking monopolized by an elite few in power to influence the masses. These laws eventually changed because we as a people evolved with the help of greater and better information, education, civic involvement, technology and time. Our President is the offspring of an interracial marriage – an illegal practice in countless states at the time of his birth. Our Speaker of the House could not have voted were she alive a century ago. Far be it from anyone today to reintroduce a bill that addresses any of these issues, as they’d clearly be dismissed as absurd, pathetic, if not shameful. Social awareness and political maturity are true blessings of liberty, and we need to celebrate them.

This is not a partisan issue, nor is it about the DOJ assessing the constitutionality, or lack thereof, of DADT. Several of our NATO allies have embraced the practice – there’s no reason we cannot as well. We have gay congressmen that vote to send our youth to war. Their performance capability as lawmakers is not diminished by their sexual orientation. Many of them have been re-elected for multiple terms.

The diversity in opinion on this issue at the highest levels of our military is not troubling, it’s a bellwether. Allowing openly gay troops to serve will no more lead to the demise of our military than when blacks were integrated into the ranks, or when women were allowed to serve on warships. There were issues with integration and there have been issues with females serving on ship, but we navigated those challenges deftly. This is about evolving. Military commanders obey the laws they are issued by the President and Congress and they maintain good order & discipline with sound leadership, incessant training and the UCMJ, whether racial, gender or sexual issues are at hand. Trust them, they know what they’re doing.

The CJCS just testified he's served with gays his entire career – over forty years. Is anyone naïve enough to think that’s when it actually started? Five will get you fifty that gays have been serving our military as far back as the earliest citizen soldiers. It’s unlikely that any of the minutemen paused to question anyone’s sexuality when the order came to take up arms in our revolution.

I was on active duty in 1992 when Clinton was elected. Prior to his inauguration, the officers in our battalion were gathered for what we thought would be our normal weekly leadership discussion. Instead, our boss tabled the issue of gays being allowed to serve; then he sat back and watched. The ensuing debate was intensely visceral, if not utterly shocking. There were stories told of officers threatening to resign elsewhere in the military – some did. Some made articulate arguments about change and the challenge of command to effectively usher the transition. But the lion’s share of discourse was about the horror to come. Fear of the change drove some highly irrational comments that transformed men I thought were respectful, intelligent, well educated gentlemen into morons. Some were bluntly opposed and didn’t consider the options. Others laughed and scoffed at the notion as if it would never happen. One officer was screaming, fist extended, veins bulging from his neck as he cursed the day gays would serve in his unit. He was unchained as saliva sprayed during his rant. The energy & zeal in most of their logic was disturbing.

Our military prowess depends on myriad factors, not the least of which is focus. Gays allowed to serve without discrimination will be relieved of the additional burdens and stressors of the existing stigma. It is time we respected these talented professionals for the tremendous skills and unmatched courage they offer to keep us all safe. The unequivocal fact we have the most powerful and proficient military on the planet based entirely on an all volunteer force is a privilege we’ve enjoyed for decades. I find it unconscionable that any responsible military leader, after reposing special trust and confidence in the fidelity and abilities of any service member, would retract their judgment based solely on the person’s sexuality.

I’m a heterosexual, Irish-Catholic, father of six, Republican, former Marine and I get it. Polls are reporting 70% of Americans support gays serving. Congress is 31 votes away from passing a bill to repeal the law. Any politician concerned about longevity ought to take notice. This is going to happen.

Every man & woman of age and able to support & defend the Constitution of the United States ought to be afforded the opportunity to do so. The document was written after all, “in order to form a more perfect union.”

Yes, I think I remember reading that somewhere.

Interesting that Chuck Wolfe of Victory Fund is calling for a GLBT Senator when the Victory Fund did not endorse Jim Neal for Senator from North Carolina in 2008. He was a credible candidate. There must have been something else going on. They ended up endorsing candidates in other races that didn't even get 30% in the general election. So, their statement that a person has to be able to win is mute or they just aren't very good at picking. We need candidates to bein the game.