Utah's three-man U.S. House delegation predictably split their vote on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) down party lines. While Republicans Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz voted against repeal, the Second District Democratic incumbent voted for repeal. The legislation was an amendment tacked on to H.R. 5136, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011. Although the Deseret News reports the vote for repeal was 234-194, this is incorrect; the New York Times reports that the final vote was 229-186, with 17 abstaining. You can view the roll call vote graphically by state HERE, or the standard list HERE, to see how other House members voted.
Prior to the vote, Matheson explained "Anyone who is willing to put on this country's uniform and put his or her life on the line to protect our freedoms deserves our respect and should not be subject to discrimination. Repealing this flawed policy is an important way for us to show that respect." Nevertheless, Jim Matheson is also a social conservative, so the vote was also intended to re-assert his "Democratic credentials" and blunt the insurgent campaign of Claudia Wright, who unexpectedly forced Matheson into a June 22nd primary contest. Kirk Jowers, the director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics, agrees, explaining, "The significance of this vote for Claudia Wright is that Democrats will look at it as Matheson will vote for us at least some of the time. If a Republican beats his challenger, we may never get one of these votes." KSL news video embedded below:
In response, Rob Bishop said "It is irresponsible for supporters of this effort to ram an amendment through Congress, in a panicked fashion, before the Department of Defense has had sufficient time to conduct a full review of the proposed change". Jason Chaffetz said he's willing to have an open mind when it comes to changes in the policy, but he said this is not the time to make these types of changes. He believes Democrats are merely trying to appease the gay community. An unscientific KSL poll currently in progress indicates a majority preferred Bishop's and Chaffetz' stance; 54 percent believe DADT should never be repealed. But 35 percent believe it is long overdue.
Also coming out in opposition is a major pro-family organization, the Family Research Council. Tony Perkins told CNN that he's concerned the religious liberties of servicemembers in general and chaplains in particular could be impaired by repeal of DADT. Perkins also posted two separate statements on the Family Research Council website, HERE and HERE, in which he basically accused Congress and the Obama Administration of using the military to advance a radical social agenda.
But what exactly does the bill do? According to the New York Times, the bill does NOT mandate repeal of DADT, but merely ALLOWS the Defense Department to end the ban against openly-professing gays 60 days after military leaders receive a report on the ramifications of allowing openly gay and lesbian soldiers to serve and certify that doing so would not disrupt the armed forces. Thus it appears the military, and President Obama as commander-in-chief, would exercise final control over the decision.
"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was originally enacted by the Clinton Administration back in 1993 as a compromise move to allow gay servicemembers who desired to keep their homosexuality discrete to continue to serve, while identifying and removing drama queens like Leonard Matlovich who merely wanted to use their military service as a platform to promote homosexuality as a desirable alternative. Unfortunately, military authorities cast their nets a bit too wide and started purging discrete gays who were involuntarily outed through the involvement of third parties. One of the most outrageous cases was that of USAF Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach, who in the process of attempting to clear himself from being accused of a crime, confessed to local police that he was gay. Local police notified authorities at Mountain Home AFB, and the Air Force began separation proceedings because of "violating" DADT. Thus in reality, we don't really need to scrap DADT altogether; we just need to re-define it more narrowly to protect gay servicemembers against being separated simply because they were involuntarily outed through third party involvement.