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Days before death, Sen. Byrd revealed quiet push to end ‘Don’t Ask’

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Six days before his death, Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) told a constituent that he supported the repeal of the military policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“Repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ does not change the composition of our Armed Forces,” Sen. Byrd wrote in a letter to constituent Jim McKay.

“It merely allows troops to continue to do their jobs without fear of dismissal or blackmailing because of their personal life,” Sen. Byrd wrote.

The letter was first published by The New Civil Rights Movement blog.

Sen. Byrd, the longest-serving senator in US history, strongly opposed allowing gays to serve in the military in 1993, but the conservative Democrat appears to have changed his views later in life.

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“No one would have blamed him for not getting involved in [Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell], especially with his earlier conservative positions, but he was actively working to advance legislation to do the right thing,” McKay said.

It is unclear if Sen. Byrd’s successor will support repeal of the policy as well.

“I hope that you will honor Sen. Byrd’s legacy by voting to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) and allow all members of the military to serve openly,” McKay wrote to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who is currently serving the unfinished term of Sen. Byrd. “This is especially important to me because I received the attached letter from Sen. Byrd expressing his support for repealing DADT after he passed away.”

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During his first appearance on the Armed Services Committee in early December, Sen. Manchin warned that repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” may cause military chaplains to leave the service in large numbers.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Monday he was “not particularly optimistic” that Congress would overturn the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy any time soon. Although the repeal is included in the National Defense Authorization Act, which is currently being debated in the Senate, Republicans have blocked the proposal.

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Dear Mr. McKay,

Thank you for consulting my office to express your views about proposed changes to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the Armed Forces of the United States. I appreciate your taking the time to provide me with the benefit of your thinking on this matter.

In 1993, when the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” statue (10 USC 654) was initially enacted the prohibition on homosexuals serving in the military ended. However, considers remained that allowing gay soldiers to serve openly would adversely affect the military: therefore, Congress crafted legislation to address these concerns. During the intervening years, however, the concerns failed to materialize.

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Repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” does not change the composition of our Armed Forces — it merely allows troops to continue to do their jobs without fear of dismissal or blackmailing because of their personal life.

On February 2, 2010, both Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen appeared before the Senate Committee on Armed Services and said that they favored ending this restriction on military service. Secretary Gates announced that he had directed a comprehensive review to understand the implications of ending the policy.

On May, 2010, the House of Representatives passed legislation that would enable the repeal of this legislation, but only 60 days after the following conditions were met:

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1. That any repeal cannot go into effect until after the working group has issued its report regarding how repeal of the statute should be implemented. That report is due on December 1, 2010.

2. That the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify in writing that repeal “is consistent with the standards of military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention of the Armed Forces.”

According to a letter from the Administration on May 24, 2010, this legislation met the concerns raised by Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and “recognized the critical need to allow our military and their families the full opportunity to inform and shape the implementation process through a thorough understanding of their concerns, insights, and suggestions.”

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I requested the addition of the 60-day period between the certification and the repeal for congressional hearings to be held to ensure that the policy changes associated with the repeal are consistent with the best interests of our Armed Forces.

On May 28, 2010, the Senate Committee on Armed Services reported the Fiscal Year 2011 National Defense Authorization Act, which includes a provision identical to the one passed by the House. The full senate is expected to take up the National Defense Authorization Act later this year.

With kind regards, I am

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Sincerely yours,

Robert C. Byrd


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