generally like to tout their differences, but all eight
Democratic candidates who participated in the Manchester,
N.H., debate Sunday night found rare unanimity in
their view that the military should repeal its
prohibition of gays and lesbians serving openly.
After the debate,
in exclusive remarks to The Advocate, the
candidates and their aides remained equally bullish on
repeal, though they differed slightly in their approach to
getting it done.
candidates' call to scrap "don't ask,
don't tell" may not be an act of
unbridled political courage--polls by organizations
such as Gallup and The Boston Globe have found
that anywhere from 60% to 79% of Americans believe
gays and lesbians should be able to serve
openly--but the shift was still historic to people who
work closely with the issue.
"It's virtually impossible to get eight
political candidates to agree on anything,"
said Steve Ralls, director of communications for the
Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an LGBT advocacy
group. "The fact that they as a party have
unified behind an idea that was exceptionally
controversial just a decade ago shows how far the movement
to repeal this law has come."
Clinton fielded the first question on the policy when she
was asked if the policy, which became law in 1993 during her
husband's presidency, was "a
who has called "don't ask" a "failed
policy" on several occasions over the years and noted
her opposition to it as early as 2000, said it was a
"transition policy" and "an important
first step" but acknowledged that it had been
implemented in a "discriminatory
after the first Gulf War there was a big flood of discharges
of gays and lesbians because they let them serve and then
after they finished the war, then they discharged
them," she said, adding that Arabic-language
linguists with critical skills have also been lost to the
policy during the Iraq War.
"So I believe we could change the policy to let gays
and lesbians serve in the military and be covered by
the Uniform Code of Military Justice."
When CNN anchor
Wolf Blitzer, who moderated the debate, noted that
the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Peter Pace,
said that changing the policy would be demoralizing
and hurt troop readiness, Sen. Joseph Biden said,
"Peter Pace is flat wrong.... This is ridiculous. And
by the way, we got a war on our hands we're trying to end.
In the meantime, we're breaking the military. Nine
thousand of these people have been kicked out."
asked for a simple show of hands on who believed
"don't ask" should be repealed, and all eight
candidates raised their hands.
The Advocate got more clarification after the
debate in the spin room, where the candidates and their
handlers meet a posse of reporters jockeying for
position to get their sound bytes.
three--Clinton, Obama, and Edwards--sent
representatives as did Rep. Christopher Dodd, but Sen.
Joe Biden, Gov. Bill Richardson, Sen. Mike Gravel, and
Rep. Dennis Kucinich braved the throng.
Here are the
unedited responses of the candidates or their aides on
what steps the candidates would take to end the
just as president of the United States, end it. I would
issue an executive order saying there will be no
discrimination whatsoever in the military and
everybody will be held to the uniform military
code--so that if two gay people engage in
illicit activity on the base, they're gone;
just like if two married people engage on the base,
simple. And the other thing is, I've talked to these
generals in the field--France, Germany,
England--they've allowed gays in the
military for I don't know how long. And 70% of the
[U.S.] veterans--the people who got shot at
coming back from Iraq--say they have no problem
whatsoever serving with an openly gay person."
with standing up for marriage equality...the fact is, the
underlying issue of marriage equality is what truly
establishes rights for our people. When you have
marriage equality, issues like 'don't ask,
don't tell' disappear. As long as you don't
have marriage equality, you have a two-tiered society,
one with rights for one group of people and not rights
for another. I want full rights for people who happen to be
gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender--full rights,
period. We can set a higher tone in our
policy--if it's not an issue in our larger
society, then it's not an issue in our
pass legislation to end it, but I would also say to my
military commanders, 'There is not going to be
any discrimination against gays and lesbians
in the military.' "
Sen. Mike Gravel:
met with the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, I said,
'I'll do an executive order,' and they said, 'Senator,
you can't do that, it's a law.' I said, 'Well, you
just watch me.' Let me tell you, I've learned one
thing about military people, those stars can come off as
easy as they go on when you're commander in chief....
Bill Clinton was nothing but a wimp, and his wife
joined him in that. She now says [the policy] was
transitional--this was never transitional. They should
have taken a page from Harry Truman, who said,
'If I can't get through the Congress the law
to integrate the races [in the military], I'm going
to do it as president.' Omar Bradley, who was
chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the
military wouldn't stand still for it. And Truman
said, 'Well, if they won't stand still
for it, tell them to start bringing in their
stars--I've got a drawer that they can put them
in.' And that was it.' "
campaign manager for the Edwards campaign:
has made his position clear that he's opposed to the
policy. He believes that sexual orientation should not
be a consideration for people who are willing to give
their lives to serve the country and risk their
lives--that should not happen. Actually, he came out
maybe three months ago with his position on that
policy. He will do whatever is necessary to get it
[repealed], and quickly, once he is in office."
communications director for the Obama campaign:
supports repealing it. I don't think you need a
strategy if you support repealing it. I would have to
check on what the legislation says, but he has said he
supports repealing it."
Ann Lewis, senior
adviser to the Clinton campaign:
have to check and see if [Clinton] could do that by
executive action. But she has been on record for some
time as opposing 'don't ask, don't
tell.' She has talked about it and written about it before.
She also addressed it in her speech to the Human
Rights Campaign. But I would have to go back and see
how specifically she could do it."
Ralls said that
some degree of confusion over whether an executive order
could eliminate the policy is warranted, since "don't
ask" was put into place by a congressional vote and a
never been a presidential executive order that attempted to
overturn law," he explained. "In general,
executive orders create law; they do not repeal or
modify the laws. So it's an untested principal for
the executive branch to alter a congressional mandate via
executive order." (Kerry Eleveld,