U.S. representative Wayne Gilchrest of Maryland, who once voted for the "don't ask, don't tell" military policy on gays in the military, is now leading a fight to reverse the ban. In 1993 the Republican, whose brother is gay, was conflicted. Gilchrest didn't believe the lifestyle was unsavory. But he listened to House conservatives who warned that asking men and women to serve in close quarters with gays and lesbians would create conflict in the ranks. Gilchrest, along with 301 others, took what he now says was probably the easy route and ratified the policy. "At the time, it seemed like the reasonable compromise," Gilchrest said. "That's pretty much how it was when I was in the service. Nobody asked about it, nobody thought about it."
Now Gilchrest has joined congressional Democrats in seeking to lift the ban. The former Marine sergeant, who was wounded in Vietnam, calls the policy a failure that costs taxpayers millions of dollars to enforce and keeps out capable men and women. His decision has helped revitalize the debate over the prohibition as operations in Iraq and Afghanistan strain U.S. forces and the Army struggles to meet recruitment goals.
Rep. Martin Meehan, a Massachusetts Democrat, introduced the Military Readiness Enhancement Act in March seeking the repeal. Gilchrest is one of four Republicans and 81 Democrats cosponsoring the legislation. Most of Gilchrest's time is spent on issues involving the Chesapeake Bay and other areas in the first congressional district, which includes all of Maryland's eastern shore and parts of Anne Arundel, Baltimore, and Harford counties. As a Marine sergeant in 1967, Gilchrest was shot in the chest while trying to free himself and two others cut off by the enemy. He's now certain that some of the Marines he fought alongside were gay. "You just didn't think about it in those days, but you knew there were people of that persuasion, and they served with great distinction," he said, nearly four decades later.
Part of his decision is based on financial reasons. Over the last 10 years, it has cost $190 million to investigate, discharge, and replace the more than 9,400 service members who said they were gay, according to the Government Accountability Office. Gilchrest's decision was also influenced by his youngest brother, David, who married his partner of 16 years last year on a beach in Massachusetts. When a fellow Republican warned last year that same-sex marriage would bring the wrath of God down on the nation, Gilchrest stood up and said, "My brother's gay, he's married to a nice man, and he's normal."
Last year he took David to the White House for a Christmas dinner and introduced him to the president. David Gilchrest, 48, said he's proud of his brother. "He's always been very open-minded," he said. "He listens to both sides of the story, and he doesn't get angry when he talks about the issues." It remains to be seen how Gilchrest's stand will fare in Maryland's increasingly conservative first district, where he plans to run for a ninth term next year. (AP)