Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has personally called on President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates to show "leadership" in helping Congress repeal the law banning openly gay soldiers from serving in the US military.
In a letter penned to Obama Sept. 24, Reid reiterated his opposition to the so-called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy which allows gays to serve in the military as long as they don't come out, and highlighted the cases of two servicemembers who are set to be expelled for revealing their sexual orientation.
"Last month, I had the opportunity to be the keynote speaker at the Las Vegas Human Rights Campaign gala dinner," he wrote, referring to the D.C.-based gay rights lobby group. "At the dinner, I was introduced to First Lieutenant Daniel Choi, a West Point graduate who served honorably in Iraq and was an Arab lingust. This past April, ... Lt. Choi receive a discharge letter from the Army after he publicly revealed that he is gay. According to published reports, Lt. Choi's fellow soldiers knew he was gay, but most cared more about his strong leadership of his unit rather than his sexual orientation."
President Obama has said that he supports the repeal of the military's ban on gay soldiers. He hasn't, however, used his executive authority to suspend the policy, as gay rights activists have called on him to do. More than two hundred gay servicemembers have been expelled from the military since Obama took office in January.
"I... request that you bring to Congress your recommendations on [don't ask, don't tell]," Reid said. "Your leadership in this matter is greatly appreciated and needed at this time."
Because the policy is part of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, it must be repealed by Congress. Reid called for its repeal earlier this year. Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA), who is openly gay, said earlier this year that the House didn't have enough votes to nix the measure, but that the Democratic leadership plans to bring up the issue in 2010. In the Senate, Democrats would need 60 votes to overcome a Republican filibuster.
"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was instituted by President Bill Clinton as a compromise between those who felt that gay servicemembers should be banned entirely, and those who wanted gays and lesbians to be able to serve openly. Prior to the policy, Pentagon officials were accused of witchhunts in going after gay soldiers.