Senator Roland W. Burris Pushes Repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Policy

WASHINGTON, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–March 3, 2010.  Senator Roland W. Burris unveiled sweeping legislation on March 3rd with five of his Senate colleagues to repeal the seventeen-year old, discriminatory policy banning gays and lesbians from serving openly in the United States military.

Senator Burris, a member of both the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, was joined by Senators Lieberman (I-CT), Levin (D-MI), Gillibrand (D-NY), Udall (D-CO), and Wyden (D-OR) as they introduced The Military Readiness Enhancement Act, a bill which will establish in the Armed Forces a policy of nondiscrimination based on sexual orientation, and will repeal the military’s existing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

This controversial policy, first established under President Clinton in 1993, prohibits any homosexual or bisexual person from disclosing his or her sexual orientation while serving in the military.  Since its enactment, nearly 14,000 service members have been discharged under the law and countless others have made the choice not to join the armed services because of the ban.

“For too long, gay and lesbian service members have been forced to conceal their sexual orientation in order to dutifully serve their country.  With this bill, we will end this discriminatory policy that grossly undermines the strength of our fighting men and women at home and abroad,” said Senator Burris.  “This legislation will ensure that all gay and lesbian soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines can serve their country openly and proudly without the threat of prejudice or discharge.”

The Military Readiness Enhancement Act stipulates that the Department of Defense may not discriminate against current service members, nor may it discriminate against future military recruits, based on sexual orientation.  The Act would also prevent discharges based upon a service member’s sexual orientation from the date of enactment, and instructs that any previously discharged service member not be prohibited from re-enlistment.  Upon passage, this legislation would allow military leaders a maximum of fifteen months to review and recalibrate internal policies and procedures, after which the repeal would be statutorily enacted.

In recent months, President Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen have all indicated their preference to see “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repealed.  It is estimated that more than 65,000 gay Americans serve in the military now, and that the United States is home to more than 1,000,000 gay veterans.

Senator Burris has long been a vocal advocate and ally of the LGBT community, and is particularly active on matters of discrimination and civil rights.

Senator Burris was a co-sponsor of the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Act, which was signed into law by President Obama in October 2009. The law provides a definition of hate crimes, and assists state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies with technical, forensic and other assistance in the investigation or prosecution of violent crimes and hate crimes.  Burris has worked with hate crimes enforcement firsthand as a former Attorney General for Illinois, and is a strong supporter of prosecution and prevention of hate crimes.

Burris is also a co-sponsor of the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act, which necessitates equal treatment in benefits for same-sex and opposite-sex domestic partners of individuals employed by the federal government?the largest civilian employer in the nation.  The Act was passed in December of 2009 by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, of which Senator Burris is a member.