Almost shockingly, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) has taken up the mantle to repeal the controversial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law that prohibits gays from openly serving in the military. It’s a move likely to be embraced by the liberal base he has significantly drifted away from, since failing to reach the White House in the disputed 2000 election.
“I will be proud to be a sponsor of the important effort to enable patriotic gay Americans to defend our national security and our founding values of freedom and opportunity,” Lieberman said in a statement Monday.
Referencing fairness and military effectiveness in his rationale, he continued, “To exclude one group of Americans from serving in the armed forces is contrary to our fundamental principles as outlined in the Declaration of Independence and weakens our defenses by denying our military the service of a large group of Americans who can help our cause.”
The decision could ease the increasingly sour relationship the Democrat-turned-independent has developed with progressives following his vigorous support for the Iraq war, his endorsement of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) for president in 2008, and most recently his key role in eliminating the public option from the Senate health care legislation.
Lieberman first revealed the news in an interview with the New York Daily News, telling James Kirchick he views this “as an extension, the next step of the civil rights movement.”
Lieberman said he was recruited by the White House to be the chief sponsor of the legislation, a decision that Kirchick said “strike[s] at the heart of the political tradition of which he is the lonely standard-bearer: Social progressivism married with foreign policy hawkishness.”
President Obama announced his intention to repeal the policy during his State of the Union address last month, and the momentum has since picked up as military leaders proceeded to back him.
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Armed Services Committee in a hearing that it “would be the right thing to do.” He added that it “comes down to integrity — theirs as individuals and ours as an institution.”
“I have opposed the current policy of preventing gay Americans from openly serving in the military since its enactment in 1993,” Lieberman said. “I am grateful for the leadership of President Obama to repeal the policy and the support of Secretary Gates and Chief of Staff Admiral Mullen.”
Gays were underwhelmed by Obama’s lukewarm support for their cause in his first year and have waited eagerly for the federal government to move forward with this, a signature issue for gay rights groups.
Recent surveys show Americans resoundingly agree with the premise of the decision. A Washington Post poll this month found that 75 percent of the public believes gays should be allowed to serve openly in the military.
While some Republicans and conservative groups stand at odds with the idea, defenders of the “Don’t Ask” policy have recently shrunk in number as even arch-conservative former vice president Dick Cheney has supported its repeal.
Lieberman’s longtime friend and political ally McCain has backed its continuation, saying, “At a time when our armed forces are fighting and sacrificing on the battlefield, now is not the time to abandon the policy.”
“No action to change the law should be taken by the administration or by this Congress until we have a full and complete understanding of the reasons why the current law threatens or undermines readiness in any significant way,” said Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA), the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, in a letter to Gates and Mullen.