In a crowd of eight Democratic presidential contenders who have all voiced opposition to the Pentagon's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy barring open service by gay and lesbian soldiers, only four show a willingness to speak out as well against the sodomy ban that is part of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Gay City News this week queried all eight Democratic campaigns, as well as those of the nine Republicans who have thrown their hats in the ring.
Of the 17 candidates, only Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd, Delaware Senator Joe Biden, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, and former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel indicated that they believe the privacy protections articulated in the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas ruling – which overturned that state's anti-gay sodomy law – should be extended to those serving in the military.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Subsequent to the deadline for the current issue of Gay City News, the campaign of Illinois Senator Barack Obama contacted the newspaper to say that he too is in favor of overturning the ban on sodomy in the military. A complete update will appear in the April 19-25 issue of Gay City News.]
New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson's campaign sent this newspaper an e-mail pointing to his opposition to the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy and emphasizing his success in his state in enacting a hate crimes law and nondiscrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The e-mail did not address the issue of the military sodomy ban.
Significantly, the campaigns of the three Democrats viewed at this early stage in the race as the frontrunners – New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Illinois Senator Barack Obama, and former North Carolina Senator and 2004 vice presidential nominee John Edwards – did not respond to the newspaper's request for comment.
Gay City News first posed the military sodomy question to the Clinton campaign in mid-March in the wake of what was widely viewed as her misstep in responding slowly and cautiously to the remarks by General Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, saying gay people are “immoral.”
It should be noted that none of the nine GOP presidential hopefuls support overturning Don't Ask, Don't Tell. In 2000, at the time he was still contemplating a run against Clinton for the open New York Senate seat, then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani stated his opposition to the ban on open gay service. However, since announcing his presidential bid earlier this year, Giuliani has flip-flopped on the issue. At Manhattan's St. Patrick's Day Parade, he told Gay City News' Andy Humm, “The policy should stay the same while we're at war… We're in a particularly intense phase.”
Advocates for ending the ban, including Massachusetts Democratic Congressman Martin Meehan, the sponsor of legislation to overturn Don't Ask, have argued that the force depletion created by the military's obligations in Iraq and Afghanistan compound the irrationality of the policy. Despite some highly publicized manpower snafus resulting from Don't Ask, Don't Tell – most prominently the dismissal of dozens of gay and lesbian Middle Eastern linguistic experts – the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) notes that discharges are down significantly in the past several years. In practice, the group suggests, the military has quietly moved away from the policy in the face of challenges on the ground.
Of the nine Republicans in the race, only the campaigns of Arizona Senator John McCain and Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo responded, both indicating their continued support for Don't Ask Don't Tell.
Alan Moore, a Tancredo spokesman, wrote via e-mail, “The Congressman supports the 'don't ask, don't tell policy' therefore he also supports the military ban on sodomy.”
In fact although SLDN does not have firm numbers, it indicated that the bulk of the sodomy prosecutions in the military, which target both anal and oral sex, are pursued against heterosexual soldiers. Gay soldiers accused of sodomy are instead typically discharged under the Don't Ask policy.
The campaigns of Giuliani, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, California Congressman Duncan Hunter, Texas Congressman Ron Paul, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, and former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson did not respond as of press time.
Kucinich told Gay City News, in a phone call, “People who serve in the military fight for everyone else's rights and they shouldn't have to fight for their own. During my presidency, government will stay out of people's bedrooms and also stay out of their e-mails, their bank records, their library records, and their medical records.”
Gravel, who served two terms in the Senate ending in 1981, this week submitted an op-ed to Gay City News calling for an end to Don't Ask, Don't Tell. His communications director, Elliott Jacobson, told the newspaper, “The senator is committed to conforming military policy to the Lawrence decision. In other words, people should be allowed to do whatever the heck they want.”
Biden's campaign sent an e-mail that referred to “the Supreme Court's clear and unmistakable view in Lawrence that the sex lives of consenting adults are a private matter… [and that should] apply to every American, both civilian and military.” The Dodd campaign wrote that the senator believes “every American has the right to privacy and that should be extended to members of the military.”
When General Pace last month asserted that gay people are “immoral,” both Clinton and Obama faced harsh criticism for their initial responses that emphasized their opposition to Don't Ask, Don't Tell, but sidestepped the issue of morality. After several evolving clarifications, Clinton, the following day, said, “I should have echoed my colleague Senator John Warner's statement forcefully stating that homosexuality is not immoral because that is what I believe.” Then in a separate comment, she added, “Then let the Uniform Code of Military Justice determine if conduct is inappropriate or unbecoming.”
In the wake of that statement, Gay City News asked her Senate office whether the reference to the UCMJ meant that the senator supports open service by gay soldiers only if they do not run afoul of the sodomy ban. The e-mailed response was that Clinton was “referring to inappropriate relationships – such as between officer and enlisted, or between commander and subordinate – irrespective of orientation.”
Since that time, however, neither Clinton's Senate office nor her campaign has responded to requests to clarify whether she is in fact opposed to the UCMJ's bar on sodomy.
The candidates' reticence on the sodomy issue may in part be due to the lack of discussion about it among LGBT advocates generally.
Steve Ralls, an SLDN spokesman, told Gay City News regarding his group's discussions with presidential candidates, “It is not an issue we are pressing with them. It is not something that candidates like to talk about. We are trying to get them to talk about Don't Ask, Don't Tell and help them understand the connection to Don't Ask, Don't Tell of [the sodomy ban], because it is one of the foundation issues.”