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COMMENTARY: Rep. Duncan Hunter continues wasteful quest to derail DADT repeal

Can anybody tell me what Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Lakeside, has accomplished as a lawmaker?

I dare you to name one thing Hunter has achieved in Congress since he was elected in 2008. Hunter is blessed to have the same name as his father, who held the East County seat for what seemed like an eternity, and junior is a chip off the old block.

Hunter is as ultra-conservative as his father and he is once again trying to delay and/or derail the repeal of the military’s discriminatory, unconstitutional “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that nation’s commander in chief wants gone ASAP. In fact, the repeal process is working smoothly and could be certified in early summer.

But Hunter, who sits on the Republican-controlled House Armed Services Committee, has hatched another wild-hair scheme to thumb his nose at President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Gates, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

On Wednesday, Hunter is expected to propose an amendment to expand the DADT repeal certification process and tack it on the National Defense Authorization Act. The amendment is nothing more than a shameful effort that wastes taxpayers money and Congress’ time away from much more critical issues, such as the economy, unemployment, job creation, the federal deficit, universal health care, immigration reform, terrorism, just to name a few.

"Despite having served honorably in Iraq, Congressman Hunter is clearly out of touch with the rank and file of the modern military on this issue, and he is even further out of touch with the American people," said Alexander Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United.

"This issue is settled, and it would take concurrence by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a majority of the full Democratic-controlled Senate, and the President for Congressman Hunter's amendment to become law. That's just not going to happen. While it may pass the ever-hostile House Armed Services Committee and may even pass the full House of Representatives, Congressman Hunter's DADT amendment is not a serious threat given the remaining insurmountable obstacles in place for the remainder of 2011 and 2012," Nicholson said.

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) said Duncan was out of touch with reality.

“Make no mistake. The expected Duncan Hunter amendment is designed to slow down repeal. It serves no constructive purpose, as the service chiefs themselves recently testified they are already very much a part of the certification process with Chairman Mullen and Secretary Gates and see no need for the amendment Mr. Hunter is offering," said Army veteran Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of SLDN.

“Put quite simply, it’s time for these opponents of repeal to move on. The Congress, the President, our nation’s senior military leaders, and the American people have spoken on this issue,” Sarvis said.

Other Republicans on the Far Right are also expected to load down the defense budget with frivolous amendments similar to Hunter’s. Few people expect these lawmakers to have any success.

The Log Cabin Republicans (LCR), which sued the government to end DADT and won the case that is now under appeal, blasted Hunter today.

“There is no appetite for the Hunter amendment, which would only distract from the comprehensive and on-going repeal implementation process,” said R. Clarke Cooper, LCR executive director.

“The Joint Chiefs of Staff were asked directly during the debate on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal if they wanted a more hands on role in the certification process. They each stated that such a change was unnecessary and that they were confident that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs would not certify until all services were prepared to move forward. This isn’t about what the joint chiefs want – it’s about pandering to special interest groups and a stubborn refusal to recognize that America is ready to grant all of our men and women in uniform the respect and freedom they deserve. This question has been asked and answered. It’s time to move on.”

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), for example, also saw that the emperor was wearing no clothes.

“These amendments are meant to either slow down open service or perpetuate the false narrative that equality and religious beliefs are irreconcilable,” said Joe Solmonese, HRC president. “Republicans should stop playing politics and standing in the way of all Americans being able to serve their country equally.”

I’ll share HRC’s fact sheet on DADT-related amendments that are expected:

Amendment by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) – Expand Certification

Rep. Hunter is expected to offer an amendment that would expand the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” certification process by requiring certification by the five service chiefs. The process created by the repeal bill passed last year and currently underway requires the Commander-in-Chief, Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to certify that the military is prepared for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” before the law is removed from the books.

Expanded certification is unnecessary. On Dec. 2, 2010, the Secretary of Defense testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that “I would not sign any certification until I was 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.” In addition, all of the service chiefs have testified before the House and Senate Armed Services Committees that expanded certification is not necessary and that they are very comfortable with their ability to provide military advice to Secretary Gates and have it heard. Finally, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is included in the certification process and serves as an additional voice for all of the service chiefs.

Amendment by Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) – Restrict Facilities and Chaplains

Rep. Akin is expected to offer an amendment that would prohibit the use of Department of Defense facilities for marriages between same-sex couples, even where state law permits such marriages. The amendment would also prohibit military chaplains or civilian DOD employees from officiating at such a marriage ceremony.

This amendment is in response to an April 13, 2011 memo from the Chief of Chaplains of the Navy that authorizes use of base facilities for same-sex marriages if a ceremony is being conducted in accordance with the laws of a state which permits same-sex marriages or unions. In addition, the memo authorized chaplains to participate in such marriage ceremonies as long as participation is consistent with the tenets of his or her faith.

This amendment would deny lesbian and gay service members equal access to federal facilities based on sexual orientation. While DOMA prohibits recognition of marriages between same-sex couples under federal laws and regulations, access to a federal facility for a marriage ceremony does not constitute recognition of that marriage by the federal government. The Defense Department opens up certain facilities to service members for a range of religious functions and ceremonies, including weddings, funerals, baptisms, confirmations, and other events. When a facility is made available for such events, individuals who meet all the other requirements for use of such facilities should not be denied access to the facility because of their sexual orientation.

In addition, this amendment would restrict the right of chaplains to freely exercise their religious beliefs. Many chaplains represent faith traditions that celebrate marriages between same-sex couples and prohibiting them from performing such marriages would be an attack on their rights under the First Amendment. Permitting chaplains to voluntarily perform marriages between same-sex couples does not run afoul of DOMA in any way. A military chaplain, even though he or she is a federal employee, simply serving as a marriage officiant, does not constitute federal government recognition of that marriage, just as a chaplain baptizing the child of a service member does not constitute the federal government endorsing the Christian sacrament of baptism. The Navy’s memorandum makes clear that no chaplain is required to perform a same-sex wedding that is inconsistent with his or her religious tradition, but simply ensures that those chaplains who wish to celebrate such weddings are able to do so as part of their duty to provide spiritual support to all service members.

Amendment by Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS) – Delay Certification and Raise Unfounded Fears about Religious Freedom

Rep. Palazzo is expected to offer an amendment that would require unnecessary regulations regarding the First Amendment rights of service members who have religious or moral objections to open service by gays and lesbians. In addition, the amendment would delay repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” for 90 legislative days beyond the issuance of such regulations.

This amendment is unnecessary. The Pentagon Working Group Report clearly concluded that no additional regulations would be necessary to protect the religious rights of service members. The First Amendment clearly prohibits the military from taking adverse action against service members who hold religious objections to open service by gays and lesbians or to homosexuality in general. While “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal ensures the equal ability to serve, regardless of sexual orientation, this amendment would provide special rights to service members who hold anti-gay views. It requires that the military “accommodate” the beliefs of those service members that “homosexual or bisexual conduct is immoral and/or an inappropriate expression of human sexuality,” creating an unclear but potentially significant burden on our Armed Forces. The First Amendment clearly protects the right of service members – and everyone else – to hold religious beliefs, including that homosexuality is immoral, and forbids retaliatory action for holding such beliefs. This amendment is simply an attempt to inject a false argument – that repeal is about privileging gay and lesbian service members over their comrades who have sincerely held religious objections to gay and lesbian equality – and further delay repeal because of it.

Amendment by Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) – Restatement of DOMA

Rep. Hartzler is expected to offer an amendment that would essentially restate that the definition of marriage under the Defense of Marriage Act applies to Defense Department regulations and policies, and suggests that such superfluous language is necessary because “the unique conditions of military service create a heightened need to protect marital and family stability.”

This is amendment is unnecessary. DOMA clearly states that “in determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies,” marriage is limited to the union of a man and a woman. Pentagon officials have made clear on numerous occasions that they are bound by the Defense of Marriage Act, as is every other federal agency. This amendment is just another attempt to distract from the question at hand – open service – and further delay repeal by pointlessly injecting the issue of marriage equality into the conversation.

Ken Williams is Editor in Chief of SDGLN. He can be reached at ken@sdgln.com or by calling toll-free to (877) 727-5446, ext. 713.