The Colorado Independent’s Nat Stein reports on legislation co-sponsored by Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, along with Reps. Ed Perlmutter and Jared Polis in the House:
Sen. Michael Bennet joined 21 other senators to introduce a bill on Monday that would reinstate honor for the estimated 100,000 military service members discharged since World War II for their sexual orientation or gender identity. The Restore Honor to Service Members Act has 97 co-sponsors in the House version, including Democrats Reps. Jared Polis and Ed Perlmutter. An identical bill failed along party lines last session.
Before the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2010, service members outed as LGBT were forced out of the military with the status of “other than honorable,” “general discharge” or “dishonorable,” depending on the situation. Without honor, these veterans don’t have access to certain benefits they earned, such as health care, the GI bill and military burial. An other-than-honorable-discharge status is treated as a felony in some states, making it impossible to vote and nearly impossible to find employment.
“‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was a backward looking policy that undermined our national security and stood contrary to our national values,” Sen. Bennet said in a release. “It’s time to take steps that will help ensure these men and women receive the benefits they rightfully earned.”
The bill would correct the record by forcing the Department of Defense to remove mention of sexual orientation from discharge, reissue personnel records and hear oral testimony from people who experienced discrimination in the military. The move is more than symbolic — it would legally restore the rights that LGBT veterans have been denied.
With the end of the military’s much-reviled “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Policy,” along with changes in civilian law like the recent Supreme Court ruling striking down bans on same-sex marriage in the states, restoring/upgrading the discharge status of thousands of military members who were discharged over the years due to their sexual orientation seems like a no-brainer. We would compare such an action to the government’s apologies to segregated minority servicemen, or even Japanese internees–all similarly victims of past discriminatory policies that have now been repudiated. Of course we should do this.
Unfortunately, this measure by all accounts has very little chance of passage in the fully GOP-controlled Congress. Without at least a few Republican Senators willing to buck prejudice within their party and help move this bill forward, it remains what seems like a no-brainer, but in the present reality is a nonstarter.
And despite everything LGBT Americans have to celebrate today, that really sucks.