In the wake of a letter from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates urging House Armed Services Committee chairman Ike Skelton not to act on legislative repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" this year, Rep. Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania told The Advocate it's time to "redouble our efforts" to end the policy during the 111th Congress. Murphy is chief sponsor of the House repeal bill, the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, which currently has 192 cosponsors.
The Advocate: Given the correspondence between Secretary Gates and Chairman Skelton, is there still a chance for a vote on repeal in the House this year?
Murphy: Yes, I do. That’s my job — to make sure that we repeal this policy. After my three years in Washington, I think when folks tell you to walk away, that’s usually a sign that you’re getting close. So we have to keep working, people need to call their members of Congress, their senators. Obviously, the letter was a setback, but I know we’re on the right side of history here and we’re going to keep fighting till we get this done this year.
Does the letter shift your strategy or you thinking at all, Congressman?
No. I said from the get-go that just because change is hard it doesn’t mean it can’t happen. We have a bipartisan bill to repeal “don’t ask, don’t" tell in the House of Representatives. We have Republican support, we have Colin Powell now on board, we even have Dick Cheney calling for repeal. We need to keep fighting.
Have you had a chance to confer with any of your pro-repeal colleagues? What are people saying about these developments?
I’ve talked to several of my colleagues and shared my disappointment at the fact that I was blindsided by the letter and the news. I’m a former paratrooper and I’m used to overcoming the odds. And when I didn’t have doors on my Humvee when I used to lead convoys up and down ambush alley, I didn’t say, ‘No, it’s too crazy or it’s too dumb.’ I kept doing it even though it was 130-degree heat and even though some of my fellow paratroopers never made it home.
But the fact is, there have been 13,500 American soldiers who were willing to take a bullet for our country to keep us safe, and they were ripped out of their units and then thrown out of our military just because they happened to be gay. And we need to stand up for national security and the American taxpayers that see that we’re wasting $1.3 billion of their tax money to enforce this policy, and change this once and for all.
Is there coordination between you and the Senate on what language might look like if, for instance, it was offered as an amendment to the Department of Defense authorization bill?
I was talking to Senator [Carl] Levin Friday, this was before the [letter from Gates], frankly, and we both very much believe that this policy hurts our national security, the American taxpayer, and we’re putting our heads together to figure out the best way to move forward on how to repeal it this year.
Speaking of Senator Levin, one of the options he’s always had on the table is putting a moratorium on discharges. Speaker Pelosi also proposed an immediate moratorium in her response to the Gates letter Friday. Do you support that strategy?
My goal from the very beginning is full repeal of the policy, ensuring that gay and lesbian service members can serve the country that they love without being in constant fear of being discharged for being who they are. That remains my focus. I think we need full repeal and to change this all permanently.
repealing the law legislatively but having a delayed implementation to
accommodate the Pentagon’s study and timeline. Do you support a
delayed implementation approach?
I know the president shares my
conviction that this is the wrong policy for our country and our
national security and that our heroes deserve better and I believe that
he’s committed to making this happen, as evidenced by his State of the
My bill, once we pass it whether through the
[Defense authorization] or other mechanisms, has a six-month delayed
enactment to give time to figure out implementation and the regulations,
etc. But we need to push forward and repeal it this year. Because every
single day this policy continues to hurt our national security and the
So I’m hearing you say that a delayed
implementation approach isn’t off the table for you?
you talked to anyone who has taken repeal off the table based on
If I could just mention one more
thing about the stress this puts on our soldiers. I got an e-mail from a
company commander in Afghanistan, who his partner broke up with him and
he had no one to turn to — he couldn’t go to his chaplain, he couldn’t
go to his superiors or to his battle buddies, and here the guy is
leading 200 of our best troops over in Afghanistan in a very tough
fight. And he cradled a 9mm weapon in his hand because he kept thinking
he had nowhere to turn to and he was about to blow his brains out.
that young army captain, who was doing the best he can to get by, he
should not have live life as a lie. And that’s why it’s incumbent on all
of us, the policy makers for our country, to do what’s right and to
stand by him even when there are setbacks and even when change is hard
and even when other folks may be naysayers.
It’s time to
redouble our efforts for heroes like him.