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Posts for November, 2013

States Defy Pentagon Order Requiring Equal Treatment for Guard Members

Jim Burroway

November 4th, 2013

Several GOP-led states have vowed to resist Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s order requiring National Guard to issue ID cards to spouses of Guard members who are in same-sex marriages. Those ID cards are critical for accessing spousal benefits. According to Reuters:

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, the Republican head of the National Governors Association, called on President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to “stop using the National Guard as a pawn in a larger social agenda,” her spokesman, Alex Weintz, said in a statement on Friday.

“The president has made it clear he supports gay marriage. He has the legal authority to order federal agencies to recognize gay marriages. He does not have the legal authority to force state agencies to do so, or to unilaterally rewrite state laws or state constitutions,” Weintz said.

Josh Havens, a spokesman for Texas Governor Rick Perry, said, “Texas Military Forces is a state agency, and as such is obligated to adhere to the Texas Constitution and the laws of this state which clearly define marriage as between one man and one woman.”

Nine states were initially identified as refusing to issue identity cards to same-sex spouses: Indiana, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina and West Virginia. Reuters reports, “Indiana notified the Pentagon on Friday it had begun issuing the cards after a month-long review, a move defense officials said they welcomed.”

Louisiana has also confirmed that they will also defy Sec. Hagel’s order, while Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said she is exploring her legal options. Georgia’s National Guard has said it will ignore Hagel’s order.

Defense Secretary Orders State National Guards To Treat Gay Couples Equally

Jim Burroway

November 1st, 2013

Since the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act last June, the Defense Department has been rushing to implement policies designed to treat legally wedded same-sex couples equally with married couples generally. But several states have refused to issue Defense Department ID cards to same-sex spouses of National Guard members. Those states include Indiana, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, in a speech to the Anti-Defamation League, has announced that he is putting a stop to such discriminatory practices:

“Today, I directed the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, Gen. Frank Grass, to take immediate action to remedy this situation. At my direction, he will meet with the Adjutants General from the states where these ID cards are being denied. The Adjutants General will be expected to comply with both lawful direction and DoD policy, in line with the practices of 45 other states and jurisdictions.”

A senior defense official told the Washington Blade that the Pentagon has some critical leverage to deploy against recalcitrant states:

“These are federal ID cards paid for with federal funding to provide federally mandated benefits,” the official said. “I’m not going to speculate on our legal options.”

Obama Administration Moves Quickly on DOMA’s Demise

Jim Burroway

June 26th, 2013

President Barack Obama issued the following statement:

I applaud the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act. This was discrimination enshrined in law. It treated loving, committed gay and lesbian couples as a separate and lesser class of people. The Supreme Court has righted that wrong, and our country is better off for it. We are a people who declared that we are all created equal – and the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.

This ruling is a victory for couples who have long fought for equal treatment under the law; for children whose parents’ marriages will now be recognized, rightly, as legitimate; for families that, at long last, will get the respect and protection they deserve; and for friends and supporters who have wanted nothing more than to see their loved ones treated fairly and have worked hard to persuade their nation to change for the better

So we welcome today’s decision, and I’ve directed the Attorney General to work with other members of my Cabinet to review all relevant federal statutes to ensure this decision, including its implications for Federal benefits and obligations, is implemented swiftly and smoothly.

On an issue as sensitive as this, knowing that Americans hold a wide range of views based on deeply held beliefs, maintaining our nation’s commitment to religious freedom is also vital. How religious institutions define and consecrate marriage has always been up to those institutions. Nothing about this decision – which applies only to civil marriages – changes that.

The laws of our land are catching up to the fundamental truth that millions of Americans hold in our hearts: when all Americans are treated as equal, no matter who they are or whom they love, we are all more free.

Attorney General Eric Holder is responds to the President’s request:

Today’s historic decision in the case of United States v. Windsor, declaring Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, is an enormous triumph for equal protection under the law for all Americans.  The Court’s ruling gives real meaning to the Constitution’s promise of equal protection to all members of our society, regardless of sexual orientation.  This decision impacts a broad array of federal laws.  At the President’s direction, the Department of Justice will work expeditiously with other Executive Branch agencies to implement the Court’s decision.  Despite this momentous victory, our nation’s journey – towards equality, opportunity, and justice for everyone in this country – is far from over.  Important, life-changing work remains before us.  And, as we move forward in a manner consistent with the Court’s ruling, the Department of Justice is committed to continuing this work, and using every tool and legal authority available to us to combat discrimination and to safeguard the rights of all Americans.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel also issued a statement promising to “immediately begin the process” of ensuring all military spouses enjoy the same benefits “as soon as possible“:

The Department of Defense welcomes the Supreme Court’s decision today on the Defense of Marriage Act. The department will immediately begin the process of implementing the Supreme Court’s decision in consultation with the Department of Justice and other executive branch agencies. The Department of Defense intends to make the same benefits available to all military spouses — regardless of sexual orientation — as soon as possible. That is now the law and it is the right thing to do.

Every person who serves our nation in uniform stepped forward with courage and commitment. All that matters is their patriotism, their willingness to serve their country, and their qualifications to do so. Today’s ruling helps ensure that all men and women who serve this country can be treated fairly and equally, with the full dignity and respect they so richly deserve.

Chuck Hagel Commits To Equal Benefits for All Servicemembers

Jim Burroway

January 15th, 2013

In a letter to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE), President Barack Obama’s nominee for Secretary of State Defense, said that he now supports the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and the expansion of equal benefits “to the extent permissible under current law” (PDF: 678KB/2 pages):

You asked if I would support the complete repeal of the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. I fully support the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010 and value the service of all those who fight for our country. I know firsthand the profound sacrifice our service members and their families make, and if confirmed as Secretary of Defense, I will do everything possible to the extent permissible under current law to provide equal benefits to the families of all our service members.

Former LCR Member Criticizes Anti-Hagel Ads

Jim Burroway

January 9th, 2013

First, an introduction is in order. From the tag line:

Berin Szoka, a technology policy analyst based in Washington, was a D.C. delegate candidate for the 2008 GOP national convention, and was, until recently, an active member of the D.C. Log Cabin Republicans.

He was also a Ron Paul supporter. He’s also president of TechFreedom, an advocacy group which appears to lobby against regluations on technology and privacy concerns. Here’s a small part of why he says he quit LCR:

Keeping the controversy over Hagel’s comments alive gives some Democrats a convenient excuse for opposing Hagel: Can he be trusted to implement repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?” That reform is one of the few wins progressives can claim from a president they see as disappointingly “center-right.” So it’s the perfect wedge issue for attacking Hagel’s left flank while rallying conservatives — provided it comes from the right messenger: gay Republicans.

Craven as that is, it’s even more of a stretch for Log Cabin, which hasn’t exactly been tough on gay rights. Mitt Romney opposed DADT repeal, marriage equality, employment non-discrimination and essentially every other gay issue Log Cabin stands for — yet Log Cabin still endorsed him, albeit in a “qualified” way. Now they oppose Hagel, who’s said he’s “fully supportive of ‘open service’ and committed to LGBT military families” — the only gay issues a secretary of Defense actually handles. That bizarre double standard will frustrate what should be Log Cabin’s top goal: encouraging Republicans to improve on gay rights — precisely as Hagel’s done.

Log Cabin’s Romney endorsement declared that “building a stronger, more inclusive Republican Party requires Republicans reaching out to Republicans.” Apparently, that tolerance doesn’t extend to Republicans who believe that, in foreign policy, discretion is the better part of valor. That’s why I’ve quit Log Cabin, an organization I’ve been involved with for a decade and whose annual D.C. holiday party my partner and I used to host.

Totally Didn’t See This Coming

Jim Burroway

January 8th, 2013

From Chris Barron’s Twitter feed:

And from Jimmy LaSalvia’s feed:

The Discussion That Wasn’t

A commentary

Jim Burroway

January 8th, 2013

It’s official. Yesterday, President Barack Obama formally nominated former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) for Secretary of Defense. Obama’s announcement recounted Hagel’s qualifications: an enlisted Purple Heart veteran of the Vietnam War, Veterans Administration deputy administrator during the Reagan Administration, and serving on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Intelligence Committee in the Senate. He voted for the Iraq War, but became a vocal critic as the war’s execution was bungled by the Bush administration, something that people who have actually served in combat tend to do, much to the annoyance to those who convinced themselves they knew what they were doing. After retiring in 2009, he became chair of Obama’s Intelligence Advisory Board, a move which the GOP sees as traitorous on par with Tokyo Rose. I don’t see how anyone can say he’s unfit to be Defense Secretary. They may disagree with him on policy — or Obama’s policies, more specifically — but we had an entire election where we got to debate those policies and Obama won. So here we are.

But there is that thing about Hagel’s anti-gay record, and it’s not a small thing. A full recap is in order, and this time I want to go over the full context rather than relying on drive-by pull-quotes. Let’s start at the beginning.

Hagel vs. Hormel, 1998
Fourteen years ago, President Bill Clinton nominated James Hormel as ambassador to Luxembourg. Senate Republicans, led by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) immediately set about blocking his nomination. Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) was just one of many Senators on both sides of the aisle to express their concern for the appointment. Those expressions ranged from mild to wild, with Hagel staking out the wilder side. On July 3, 1998, Hagel expressed his concern to the Omaha World-Herald this way:

Ambassadorial posts are sensitive, Hagel explained.

“They are representing America,” he said. “They are representing our lifestyle, our values, our standards. And I think it is an inhibiting factor to be gay — openly aggressively gay like Mr. Hormel — to do an effective job.”

Hagel noted a documentary, filmed with money Hormel donated, that showed teachers how they could teach children about homosexuality. He said he had seen another video clip that showed Hormel at what Hagel called an anti-Catholic event in San Francisco, featuring the “Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence,” a group of male drag queens.

“It is very clear on this tape that he’s laughing and enjoying the antics of an anti-Cathloic gay group in this gay parade,” Hagel said. “I think it’s wise for the president not to go forward with this nomination.”

Over the years Hormel, a former dean of the Chicago Law School, has given money to civil-rights groups, colleges, symphonies, and to groups fighting autism, breast cancer and AIDS. Hormel listed the contributions in a letter to a supporter, Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore. In the letter, Hormel said he provided “minor” support for the teacher documentary and had no control over its content.

The Log Cabin Republicans, a gay group, says the videotape from the San Francisco event resulted when men dressed as nuns walked past a broadcast booth where Hormel, a well-known civic leader in the city, was giving an interview to a local reporter.

Hormel’s homosexuality is not the problem, say Hagel and other opponents of the nomination. It’s his openness about being gay and his advocacy of some causes, they say.

Hagel, meanwhile, said a homosexual should not necessarily be disqualified from all ambassadorships.

His approach to nominees, he said, has been to examine the person’s qualifications first. The United States has had gay ambassadors in the past and gays in the military, who have done well by quietly adopting the Pentagon’s current “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude.

Hormel, however, has gone beyond that, Hagel said.

He “very aggressively told the world of his gayness and the funding and all the things he’s been involved in. I think you do go beyond common sense there, and reason and a certain amount of decorum,” Hagel said.

“If you send an ambassador abroad with a cloud of controversy hanging over him, then I think it’s unfair to our country, it’s unfair to the host country and it’s unfair to the ambassador because the effectiveness of that individual is going to be seriously curtailed. That’s just a fact of life. And I believe Hormel’s situation is one of those.”

It’s important to remember the context in 1998, when any kind of pro-gay gesture was fodder for anti-gay prejudice, whether it was attending a Pride parade — regardless of whether drag queens and Sisters were there or not — or suggesting that a discussion about the issues of LGBT youth. Fourteen years ago, those were areas that even our supporters feared to tread, and more often than not, they would inoculate themselves by bemoaning Pride parades and assuring a jittery public that nobody would come within a thousand miles of their children with material that might suggest that having two moms or experiencing “funny” feelings might be something to talk about.

I say that not to excuse or exonerate Hagel. Instead, it goes to show how powerful a cudgel Hagel wielded when he made those remarks to the World-Herald. That was in 1998, and Hagel would spend the next ten years in the Senate opposing nearly every pro-gay measure, racking up a very nearly perfect zero score on the Human Rights Campaign’s congressional scorecard. There were two exceptions: Hagel supported reauthorization of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which included an end to Jesse Helms’s cherished AIDS travel ban. That nudged his HRC score off of zero for 2007-2008, even though I’m unclear about whether he voted for it because of, despite, or with indifference to the lifting of the travel ban. The second exception was a bit smaller: He voted for the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004, but didn’t cast a vote in 2006. Soon after, he voiced his opposition to the FMA, earning this rebuke from Focus On the Family.

But before we continue, it is important to note a few more things about Hagel’s term as Senator. LGBT issues aside (and his record in that area was deplorable), Hagel had earned a reputation as a moderate in the Senate. Those positions in today’s GOP would have made him a traitor, but just ten short years ago, when Hagel criticized the war in Iraq and the Bush Administration’s “war on terrorism” rhetoric as needlessly alarmist, and criticized the prison on Guantanamo as the reason the U.S. was “losing the image war around the world,” questioning things that were going wrong wasn’t yet a crime against nature. He voted against “No Child Left Behind”, but supported President Bush with the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006, which would have provided a pathway to residency and citizenship for undocumented immigrants who have been in the country for five years. During Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) 2008 run for president, he floated Hagel’s name as someone who would make a good Secretary of State for a McCain Administration.

Hagel v. Hormel, 2012
Since Hagel’s retirement on January 3, 2009, he has stayed mostly out of the limelight, only to re-emerge over the past year or so. In 2011, he said that there was the Defense Department is “bloated”, and said that diplomats should, you know, engage in diplomacy, with Iran and Hamas. He now is being criticized for having said things like, “I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States senator” — a statement that wasn’t nearly as controversial just a few short years ago in the GOP as it is today. He also, inelegantly, said that the “Jewish” lobby has too much influence. If he had said “Israeli lobby” instead, he would have been more accurate, but I don’t think it would have shielded him from accusations of being an anti-Semite since the dominant GOP trend now is to show what a strong “friend of Israel” you are by never contradicting Netanyahu on anything. In 2012, he endorsed Democrat Bob Kerrey in the race for an open U.S. Senate seat in Nebraska, and you just know that didn’t go over very well with fellow Republicans either.

So when rumors began to circulate that President Barack Obama was thinking about nominating Hagel for Defense Secretary, the knives were already out. Meanwhile, the LGBT community remembered Hagel’s comments to the Omaha World-Herald in 1998, a rediscovery which reopened a lot of old wounds in the LGBT community. HRC’s Chad Griffin said on December 20, “Senator Hagel’s unacceptable comments about gay people, coupled with his consistent anti-LGBT record in Congress, raise serious questions about where he stands on LGBT equality today.” Hagel moved quickly to try to put out that fire with this short statement to Politico on December 21:

My comments 14 years ago in 1998 were insensitive. They do not reflect my views or the totality of my public record, and I apologize to Ambassador Hormel and any LGBT Americans who may question my commitment to their civil rights. I am fully supportive of ‘open service’ and committed to LGBT military families.”

Naturally, given the timing and brevity of Hagel’s statement, Hormel’s initial reaction was negative:

“I have not received an apology,” Hormel, who is a major figure in Democratic politics, told me. “I thought this so-called apology, which I haven’t received, but which was made public, had the air of being a defensive move on his part.” Hormel added that the apology appeared to have been given “only in service of his attempt to get the nomination.”

But a few hours later, after Hormel had a chance to think it over, he issued this statement accepting Hagel’s apology and supporting his nomination:

Senator Hagel’s apology is significant–I can’t remember a time when a potential presidential nominee apologized for anything. While the timing appears self-serving, the words themselves are unequivocal–they are a clear apology. Since 1998, fourteen years have passed, and public attitudes have shifted–perhaps Senator Hagel has progressed with the times, too. His action affords new stature to the LGBT constituency, whose members still are treated as second class citizens in innumerable ways. Senator Hagel stated in his remarks that he was willing to support open military service and LGBT military families. If that is a commitment to treat LGBT service members and their families like everybody else, I would support his nomination.

As Hormel says, there has been a huge shift in public opinion since 1998. Actually, you don’t have to go back that far to see a strong shift. You only have to go back to 2008, the year that Hagel voted to rescind the HIV travel ban but voiced support for DADT, and the year that he retired from the Senate. That same year, Californians voted 52.2% to 47.8% to strip gays and lesbians of their right to marry. Voters in Arizona and Florida also enshrined discrimination into their state constitutions. In 2009, Maine voters rejected a bill granting same-sex marriage by 52.9% to 47.1%.

But three short years later, in 2012, Maine voters reversed themselves on the same question by very nearly the same margin, 52.7% to 47.3%. Voters in Washington and Maryland — with substantial support even from GOP voters — also approved marriage equality bills, and Minnesota voters rejected an attempt to deface their constitution with discrimination. In that same short time span, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed with bipartisan support; the New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire legislatures enacted marriage equality, also with bipartisan support; former Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA), who had authored the “Defense of Marriage Act,” came out for DOMA’s repeal; and two current GOP representatives are cosponsoring a bill to do just that.

That represents a huge sea change in LGBT politics in just four years. Of course, not all Republicans are participating in that change. Among elected officials and party activists, the vast majority are not, as evidenced by what was perhaps the GOP’s most overtly homophobic platform in history. But taken together, that represents an extraordinarily wide spectrum within the Republican Party, with people like Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL, and a vice chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus) on one end and Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-TX, retrograde) on the other. It’s safe to say that Hagel falls somewhere within that very wide spectrum, but exactly where he is we don’t know.

Unwarranted Attacks
And the way things are shaping up, few of our so-called “advocates” are interested in finding out. I can’t think of another context in which a politician who had previously had a pretty solid anti-gay voting record and who had, just a few short years later, voiced support LGBT Americans’ civil rights — and those were his words — only to have everyone evaluate that transformation not in terms of what it means for LGBT Americans, but strictly through the lens of unrelated politics. And in this case, it seems to be politics related to whether Israel or America determines American foreign policy. At least that’s how Log Cabin Republicans appear to have framed the issue. When rumors first began circulating that Hagel was being considered for Defense Secretary, L. Clarke Cooper responded on December 14:

Speaking for himself and not for LCR, Cooper wrote in an email, “I recall working with Senator Chuck Hagel and his staff during the Bush administration and he was certainly not shy about expressing his criticisms. But despite his criticisms, Hagel voted with us most of the time and there was no question he was committed to advancing America’s interests abroad. As for his nomination to be secretary of defense, it is well worth noting that Senator Hagel is a combat veteran who has hands-on experience in the field. The battlefield is not just theory for him.”

The timeline here is important because it helps to provide context. Cooper voiced this support for Hagel after reports were circulating about his 1998 comments to the Omaha World-Herald and before Hagel apologized for those comments. Which means that Cooper was defending Hagel despite Hagel’s comments from 1998.

LCR’s mission, according to its own web page, is “to build a stronger, more inclusive Republican Party” while adhering to what LCR calls the party’s “core values.” And so when a previously anti-gay politician utters words which indicate a shift away from exclusion towards inclusion, one might think that an organization which claims to promote inclusion would want to encourage that. You know, something like this:

Hey, we’re glad you came around. We’re glad you apologized. It’s a really good start, but we’d like to know more. What changed? Why did you change? And that thing you said, about your commitment to our civil rights. This is the first time you’ve said anything like that. Can you tell us more? Which of our civil rights are you committed to? And that thing about LGBT military families: that’s an important issue that’s still unresolved. Thanks for noticing. What issues to you think you can resolve for them? Where do we go from here?

LCR’s Hagel Ad in The New York Times, December 27, 2012. (Click to enlarge.)

There are so many things LCR could have done, and it appeared that based on what Cooper said before Hagel apologized, LCR was in the perfect position to carry out what it claims to be its mission. Bizarrely, Log Cabin Republicans did exactly the opposite. After Hagel issued his apology, Log Cabin Republicans placed an expensive, full-page ad in the December 27 edition of the New York Times quoting from Hagel’s 1998 comments — as though his more recent statement had never been uttered — and tied their opposition to Hagel to Israel and Iran. And as icing on the cake, they called the man who, for the first time in his career recognized “LGBT Americans’ civil rights” by using those very words, “Wrong on Gay Rights.”

Bizarre, I know. But then, this is the same organization who endorsed a presidential candidate who signed on to the National Organization for Marriage’s five-point plan to destroy LGBT Americans’ civil rights. What can I say but “Exclusion wins!”

Oh, and Israel! Iran! Wherever that came from.

LCR’s Hagel Ad in The Washington Post, January 7, 2013. (Click to enlarge.)

LCR doubled down yesterday with another expensive full-page ad in the Washington Post. This time, they made it all about the gays, leaving the Middle East out of it. But of course, in the context of the greater GOP opposition, LCR has already shown their hand with The Times ad. In this ad, they claim to examine Hagel’s anti-gay record — except, of course, they left out his 2006 change of heart on the FMA because that inconvenient fact interrupts their narrative. (If you recall, that would be the very same position on FMA that LCR explicitly cited when they endorsed McCain for president in 2008.) And in a particularly juvenile move, LCR decided to acknowledge Hagel’s brief apology by crossing their arms, stomping their feet and shrieking “Too little, too late“. Seriously. That’s the concluding line they stamped across the bottom of their ad. It’s a fine retort for a first-grader, but not from mature adults who claim that they want to actually accomplish something.

If this is how LCR slams people who make a move towards inclusion while rewarding presidential candidates who really do want to turn back the clock on our civil rights, then they’ve pretty much sent the message to everyone in the GOP that they may as well stay right where they were in 1998.

Unearned Embraces
If LCR represents one cynical extreme with its irrational reaction to Hagel’s statements, then thank goodness we still have the Human Rights Campaign around to remind us about its well-earned reputation for being too cozy with Democratic politics.

HRC’s mission, according to their web page, is “to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.” And so when a previously anti-gay politician utters words which indicate a tentative shift away from discrimination and towards fairness and equality, one might think that an organization which claims to promote those values might want to seize the initiative and try to elicit some kind of a follow-up to Hagel’s three sentence statement. Obviously Hagel’s apology raises far more questions than it answers. If that’s all he has to say on the subject, than I don’t think anyone with a shred of self-respect would accept it as a final word. After all, contrary to Hagel’s assurances LGBT Americans do have plenty of good reasons to question Hagel’s commitment to their civil rights. Those reasons can be found in his own record.

And so, you might think that HRC, given their mission, might want to say something to encourage Hagel to clarify what he meant. Something along the lines of–

Hey, we’re glad you came around. We’re glad you apologized. It’s a really good start, but we’d like to know more. What changed? Why did you change? And that thing you said, about your commitment to our civil rights. This is the first time you’ve said anything like that. Can you tell us more? Which of our civil rights are you committed to? And that thing about LGBT military families: that’s an important issue that’s still unresolved. Thanks for noticing. What issues to you think you can resolve for them? Where do we go from here?

You know, the same kinds of questions that LCR could have raised.

But no. The ink was barely dry on Hagel’s apology when we got this instead:

Senator Hagel’s apology and his statement of support for LGBT equality is appreciated and shows just how far as a country we have come when a conservative former Senator from Nebraska can have a change of heart on LGBT issues,” HRC President Chad Griffin said in a statement. “Our community continues to add allies to our ranks and we’re proud that Senator Hagel is one of them.”

Nothing more to talk about here. Forget everything you remembered about him. He’s our pal now, and there’s no need to worry our pretty little heads over him anymore.

True, it’s much better than kicking Hagel to the curb. But it’s a far cry from anything that would remotely resemble clarity, let alone accountability. HRC has declared the subject closed and there’s nothing more to talk about.

There is a silver lining though: at least they didn’t spend a couple hundred grand on that message.

Where Do We Go From Here?
But the conversation isn’t over. It’s barely even started. And so let me close with two statement which, I think, strike the right balance and invites Hagel to expand on his all-too-brief statement. And of all places, the first one comes from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, an organization that is often criticized for diluting their efforts across a wide array of non-LGBT issues. In 2012, the NGLTF even went so far as to claim “synergy” between same-sex marriage and an attempt to add casino gambling in Maryland. But on the Hagel nomination, the NGLTF gets it mostly right:

“We continue to express our concerns about the nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense due to his poor track record on LGBT equality and reproductive rights. Cabinet choices set the tone for an administration and it is critical that those members support fairness, women’s health and the belief in a level playing field for all. Though Chuck Hagel has recently apologized for past anti-gay remarks, we expect him to fully explain his views during the confirmation process and what steps he intends to take as defense secretary to demonstrate his support for LGBT members of the military and their families. We recognize that people do evolve on these issues and we hold out hope that, if confirmed, Hagel will meet the bar set by other cabinet secretaries and the administration when it comes to ensuring fairness for all LGBT military families and for women in the military.”

And the second one comes from Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), who said this to MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell:

“I do not know Chuck Hagel…I do want to speak with him, particularly about his comments 14 years ago, to see if his apology is sincere and sufficient. I want to hear how he’s evolved on this issue in the the last 14 years because the significance to the post to which he’s been nominated is the respect for now openly gay members of the military who because of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell can serve openly and we need to see that implemented successfully…”

Both statements strike a good balance, neither damning Hagel as irredeemable nor embracing him as though he has nothing left to answer for. Because the fact remains that he may yet become a good ally, and we’d be foolish to slam the door on that possibility. But we’d be equally foolish to pretend that our legitimate doubts about his commitment to our civil rights either don’t exist or don’t matter.

GetEqual Opposes Hagel Nomination

Jim Burroway

January 8th, 2013

GetEqual, the far-left LGBT advocacy group, has issued a press release opposing Sen. Chuck Hagel’s nomination for Defense Secretary. The group’s press release gives a flavor ofthe group’s political priorities:

During his tenure in the Senate, Hagel scored 4% with the Human Rights Campaign, 14% with the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, 12% with the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), 5% with the League of Conservation Voters, and 7% with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). This is not a voting record that indicates Hagel is in line with the Obama Administration’s stated core values.

“With our country facing so many important battles ahead on such crucial issues as immigration reform, climate justice, and gun control, it’s baffling why President Obama would spend political capital on a nominee who so clearly is at odds with his Administration’s values,” said Heather Cronk, managing director for GetEQUAL. “While Hagel’s remarks 15 years ago about Jim Hormel pulled back the window on how he felt then about gay Americans, his voting record seems more in line with those remarks than with the Obama Administration. The majority of his votes in the areas of civil rights, economic justice, and environmental conservation — the areas articulated as priorities for President Obama’s second term — rank him in the bottom rung of all members of Congress.”

Interestingly, the group says very little about Hagel’s competency as Defense chief. You’d think they’d at least mention that he voted for the Iraq War in 2002. What conservation, gun control or climate change has to do with anything isn’t clear. More confusingly, the statement demands that during Hagel’s confirmation hearing he “explain in great detail…where he stands on equality in the ranks and throughout the country.” I agree. But with the overall tone of this press release, it seems rather obvious to me that no explanation would ever satisfy GetEqual.

Discharged servicemen win discriminatory military severance pay case

Timothy Kincaid

January 7th, 2013

In 1993, the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy went into effect. And while in some ways this policy was worse than the one it replaced, there were some ways in which it was an improvement. Under DADT, expulsion for homosexuality was generally processed as an honorable discharge, a rather important distinction for future employers, veterans benefits, and the morale of the soldier.

However, the Defense Department did not treat such discharges equally. While other servicemen and women who had been in the military for more than six years were entitled to a separation pay, those who were discharged under DADT had their separation pay cut in half. (Roughly dropping a $25,000 payment to $12,500).

In November 2009, the ACLU and the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network contacted the Defense Department requesting that this discriminatory policy be reversed. They were denied. They sued.

On September 9, 2010, Log Cabin prevailed in their lawsuit against the government and in December 2010, Congress overturned the discriminatory policy. On September 20, 2011, the joint Chiefs of Staff certified that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was officially removed as military policy.

However, two days later, the Defense Department was in court asking that the ACLU lawsuit be tossed out. Their argument was that the Secretary of Defense has sole discretion over its rules on separation pay.

This position is baffling. Besides the issue of fairness, the money was minuscule, not even a blip in the overall defense budget. And it seems contrary to the administration’s views.

Judge Christine Odell Cook Miller (appointed by Reagan, reappointed by Clinton) did not seem much impressed with the DoD’s argument.

Your timing is exquisite – two days after the policy goes into effect eliminating ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ here we are.

So perhaps todays ruling is no surprise. (Windy City)

Former service members who are part of a class action lawsuit challenging a Defense Department policy that cuts in half the separation pay of those who have been honorably discharged for “homosexuality” will receive their full pay after a settlement announced today.

However, full justice has not been achieved.

The settlement covers service members who were discharged on or after November 10, 2004, which is as far back as the settlement could extend under the applicable statute of limitations.

This provides, I believe, an opportunity for the administration’s proposed Secretary of Defense to illustrate whether he, indeed, has changed views on gay and lesbian servicemen. As the Secretary of Defense has sole discretion, Chuck Hagel can – if confirmed – choose to extend the pay back for all who were subjected to unfair discrimination and not limit recovery solely to those who are covered by the lawsuit. I hope he illustrates his goodwill and announces his intention to honor those discharged before that date.

Log Cabin doubles down on Hagel

Timothy Kincaid

January 7th, 2013

Click to enlarge.

Log Cabin Republicans has released a second full page ad, this time in the Washington Post, criticizing the record of Chuck Hagel, former Republican Senator from Nebraska. Hagel will be formally nominated later today by the President for the position of Secratary of Defense.

This ad was limited to gay issues and addressed the “totality” of Hagel’s record (from LCR press release):

• In 1996 Hagel said he supported the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law defining marriage as one man and one woman. He also supported a state constitutional amendment barring gays from marrying.
• In 1998 Hagel opposed the nomination of James Hormel as Ambassador to Luxembourg, arguing that an “openly, aggressively gay” man should not selected to represent the U.S.
• In 1999 Hagel Opposed repealing the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, saying, “the U.S. armed forces aren’t some social experiment.”
• In 2005, in reaction to a federal judge’s ruling that Nebraska’s voter-passed ban on same-sex marriage violated the constitutional rights of lesbians and gay men, Hagel opposed the decision saying, “I am hopeful the federal appeals court will recognize the rights of Nebraskans to determine their own laws governing marriage and reverse this decision.”

Barny Frank Scales Back Criticism of Hagel

Jim Burroway

January 7th, 2013

In remarks to the Boston Globe, retired Rep. Barny Frank (D-MA) has scaled back his criticism of former Sen. Chuck Hagel’s (R-NE) pending nomination as Defense Secretary. But before getting to his latest comments, I think it’s important to review his previous statements in order to provide full context. On December 19, after Hagel’s anti-gay comments from 1998 came to light but before he issued his apology, Frank ignored those earlier anti-gay statements and instead focused on charges that Hagel was either an anti-Semite or, at best, not a friend to Israel. Frank opinion then was:

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who is Jewish, said he did not object to what has become one big point of contention about Hagel: an allusion to the “Jewish lobby,” in reference to advocates for Israel in Congress and elsewhere.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having Portuguese lobbies, Jewish lobbies, Greek lobbies,” Frank said. “I think he’d be very good. … You need someone intelligent to help cut that budget.”

After Hagel apologized, Frank changed his mind on New Year’s Eve:

Then-Senator Hagel’s aggressively bigoted opposition to President Clinton’s naming the first openly gay Ambassador in U.S. history was not, as Sen. Hagel now claims, an aberration,” Frank said. “He voted consistently against fairness for LGBT people and there does not seem to be any evidence prior to his effort to become Secretary of Defense of any apology or retraction of his attack on James Hormel.”

Frank added, “And to those of us who admire and respect Mr. Hormel, Sen. Hagel’s description of him as aggressive can only mean that the Senator strongly objected to Hormel’s reasoned, civil advocacy for LGBT people. I cannot think of any other minority group in the U.S. today where such a negative statement and action made in 1998 would not be an obstacle to a major Presidential appointment.”

Today, Frank began walking that back:

“I was hoping the president wouldn’t nominate him,” Frank told the Globe today.

“As much as I regret what Hagel said, and resent what he said, the question now is going to be Afghanistan and scaling back the military,” Frank said. “In terms of the policy stuff, if he would be rejected [by the Senate], it would be a setback for those things.”

…“With the attack coming out of the right, I hope he gets confirmed,” Frank said today.

I don’t think Frank is being inconsistent. He’s framing his support for Hagel based on the larger question of what a Defense Secretary will be called upon to do in the coming months. But when it comes to LGBT policy, it’s worth noting that all policy originates in the White House, and the buck will always stop there. And this particular president – who dismantled DADT, who is acting on the conviction that DOMA is unconstitutional, who has come out in support for marriage equality — has earned a measure of latitude that no other president has come close to deserving in all of American history, at least insofar as LGBT policies are concerned. I will have more thoughts on this topic later.

Update: I want to add that this in no way means that I find Hagel’s apology acceptable as a final word. It opens a door, but that doorway is yet to be walked through.

Frank opposes Hagel

Timothy Kincaid

December 31st, 2012

Well I have to admit I’m shocked. Barney Frank and I agree on something.

Blade

Retiring gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) announced on Monday that he strongly opposes the nomination of Chuck Hagel as defense secretary based on the former senator’s 1998 anti-gay comments and record on LGBT issues.

And even more surprising is that it goes against my impression of him as the ultimate partisan hack (or, as the blade put it):

Frank has a reputation for being a loyalist to the Democratic Party and President Obama, so the statement against Obama’s potential pick for defense secretary is particularly noteworthy.

Well maybe I’ll have to keep a bit more of an open mind about Barney.

Log Cabin Republicans Loses Its Last Shred of Credibility

A commentary.

Jim Burroway

December 30th, 2012

And in the process, they have gone all-in on political hack-dom.

Last Thursday, the GOP advocacy group — they are no longer a GOP LGBT advocacy group — took out a full page ad in The New York Times attacking former Sen. Chuck Hagel’s (R-NE) possible nomination as Defense Secretary to succeed Leon Panetta, who is expected to step down soon.  LCR’s ad calls Hagel “Wrong on Gay Rights, Wrong on Iran, Wrong on Israel.” It comes to that conclusion after quoting Hagel’s 1998 denunciation of openly gay James Hormel as US Ambassador to Luxembourg and implores readers to donate to LCR so that they can “create a stronger and more inclusive Republican Party.”

Oh, and to tell Obama that Hagel is “wrong for Defense Secretary.”

As Timothy Kincaid noted, there are a number of very good reasons to be concerned about a possible Defense Secretary Hagel, most of which I share. Hagel attacked Hormel for being incapable of “representing our lifestyle, our values, our standards” because “it is an inhibiting factor to be gay — openly, aggressively gay.” Whatever that was supposed to mean. Hagel’s attack on Hormel stood for more than fourteen years through debates over marriage, DOMA, and DADT repeal — which incidentally a Secretary Hagel would oversee its continued implementation. Hagel supported DADT up until his retirement in 2009, although he now says that he is “pro-ending” DADT. His belated apology notwithstanding — for being “insensitive” rather than for being wrong — I find him a troublesome choice for Defense Secretary.

Log Cabin Republicans find him problematic as well, and they’ve spent an incredible amount of scratch to say so. Believe it or not, but after a highly contentious election year, they just happened to find that they had somewhere in the neighborhood of a hundred grand that was till laying around in their coffers to put towards a full-page ad in The New York Times.

That’s an incredible amount of money to tell everyone that Hagel is “wrong on gay rights.” Especially when it comes only two months after LCR decided that Mitt Romney was the right choice “for our members, our community, and for the nation as a whole” — despite Romney’s running on the most homophobic platform in GOP history and his  personal endorsement for NOM’s five-point attack plan against the LGBT community.

It’s time to face simple facts. Log Cabin Republicans is no longer an LGBT rights group. At one time, they were. They withheld their endorsement of President George Bush in 2004 because he called for the passage of the Federal Marriage Amendment, and they endorsed John McCain in 2008 partly because he opposed the Federal Marriage Amendment. They also sued the federal government in court over the constitutionality of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” That is what accountability and advocacy used to look like for gay Republicans within the GOP.

But this year, LCR endorsed Romney for holding exactly the same policies as Bush, while Hagel gets a full-page attack ad over fourteen-year-old comments — for which Hagel at least managed to muster some kind of a half-hearted apology, which, as weak as it was, is still far better than anything we’ve heard out of Romney.

And what makes the LCR’s actions all the more unbelievable is that just two weeks ago, when Hagel’s comments were first coming to light, LCR Executive Director R. Clarke Cooper was singing his praises:

Speaking for himself and not for LCR, Cooper wrote in an email,  “I recall working with Senator Chuck Hagel and his staff during the Bush administration and he was certainly not shy about expressing his criticisms. But despite his criticisms, Hagel voted with us most of the time and there was no question he was committed to advancing America’s interests abroad. As for his nomination to be secretary of defense, it is well worth noting that Senator Hagel is a combat veteran who has hands-on experience in the field. The battlefield is not just theory for him.”

Anyone can hold some unbelievably inconsistent positions, and many of us do. But LCR is putting some serious muscle behind its sterling silver forked tongue. According to tax returns filed at Guidestar (registration required), LCR’s annual revenue amounts to something in the neighborhood of $800,000, while a full-page ad at the New York Times can run in excess of $100,000.  Which means that LCR doesn’t just hold a glaringly inconsistent position, they purchased their double-platinum double standard at the cost of upwards of an eight of their annual budget.

Or so they would have us believe. Which, frankly, I find preposterous. To believe that, I would have to swallow the idea that in the closing days of an election year, this particular political organization still had an eighth of its budget unspent. Really? Nobody has that much money laying around at the end of the year. But LCR did. Or, more likely, the necessary funds just happened to materialize right at the moment when it was needed to cover LCR’s highest priority as of last week.

All of this raises some very legitimate questions about what kind of an organization the Log Cabin Republicans really is. We know they don’t give a shit about the LGBT community; they amply demonstrated that two months ago. They are now just using “gay rights” as just another angle to support the broader Party Line, whatever the Party Line is. And that Party Line is to support Party Causes, Party Campaigns and Party People, regardless of whatever their actual positions on gay rights happens to be. If it means supporting The Party’s anti-gay presidential candidate, then shut up and get in line. If it means providing cover for The Party’s opposition to a somewhat less anti-gay turncoat who would dare to work in a Democratic administration, then here’s a boatload of cash to do it with. Gay rights? Shmay rights! As long as it provides cover for The Party’s larger goals.

As a postscript: It’s worth noting that on the day after that the LCR ad appeared in The New York Times, the LCR board announced that Cooper was stepping down as Executive Director effective Dec 30. Their Party Line is that Cooper made that decision last October.

Can Hagel’s anti-gay career just be shrugged away?

Timothy Kincaid

December 27th, 2012

It has long been tradition for Presidents to reward supporters and activists with an ambassadorship post to a friendly and strategically non-controversial nation. And so, in 1998, President Clinton nominated James Hormel, a philanthropist and Democratic Party activist, to be the US Ambassador to Luxembourg, a nation about the size of Connecticut and with the population of Tuscon.

But one small problem, James Hormel is gay. And so the usual suspects raised a ruckus, spittle flew, and homophobia stopped its ugly feet all over the place. The Family Research Council and the Catholic League found him simply unacceptable for a Catholic Country and Trent Lott (R-MS), the Senate Majority Leader blocked the nomination.

Luxembourg weighed in saying that they have laws which prohibit anti-gay discrimination in employment (a polite way of saying “we think you’re being asses”) and that Hormel would be welcome. And eventually, in May 1999, Clinton used a recess appointment to put him in the post. As best we can tell, the Ambassador wore the right clothes to all the right dinners and our relationship with the Duchy of Luxembourg survived the ordeal.

But these little events can often be useful. They can give you the measure of a person’s character and the considerations they include in their decision making. And they can have long long legs and former Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NB) is learning just how long.

While some Senators questioned Hormel’s positions, in 1998, Hagel was one of those who opposed Hormel solely on the basis of his orientation. He believed that this, and this alone, was enough to disqualify Hormel from representing the United States in the tiny European nation. Because, you see, ambassador posts are “sensitive”.

They are representing America. They are representing our lifestyle, our values, our standards. And I think it is an inhibiting factor to be gay — openly, aggressively gay like Mr. Hormel — to do an effective job.

Not that he’d oppose all gay ambassadors, you see. No nothing like that. But this is a Catholic country.

I want to be fair to Hagel and he does not have a completely anti-gay record. Along with John McCain, Hagel opposed the anti-gay Federal Marriage Amendment in 2005 (and I thank him for that):

I’m a conservative. I believe the sanctity of the Constitution of the United States is very important, I don’t think you need a constitutional amendment defining marriage. That’s a state issue.

But, for the most part, Hagel has politely and ever-so-nicely opposed every concession towards equality or protection that the gay community has requested. Not out of animus (no, no, assuredly not), but there was always some reason, some explanation why this time gay people had to go without.

And, of course, Hagel is happy to move with the tail end of progress. And the idea of denying an ambassadorship to a qualified candidate based on his or her orientation has been a non-starter since George W. Bush’s appointment of Michael Guest to Romania in 2001.

So, now that he’s in consideration for the role of Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel rushed to offer a 14 years stale apology:

My comments 14 years ago in 1998 were insensitive. They do not reflect my views or the totality of my public record, and I apologize to Ambassador Hormel and any LGBT Americans who may question my commitment to their civil rights.

And those ideologically aligned with the administration have been quick to say, “good enough for me”. The New Yorker called objections to Hagel an “ugly attack” and MSNBC assured us that it was all a long time ago in a different era. And even James Hormel – after describing it as insincere – “accepted” the apology.

Even the Human Rights Campaign decided that this apology illustrates “a change of heart on LGBT issues” and declared Hagel a new ally in our ranks.

But I just can’t get my feet to do the Hagel dance.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a big believer in redemption. I’m first in line to applaud those who wish to repudiate former beliefs and to atone. I am generous in my welcome and effusive in my congratulations to those who have a change of heart.

But I’m not seeing a change of heart. I see an apology for a few words driven by political expediency.

You see, I happen to disagree with Chuck Hagel. I think that his 1998 statement actually does reflect his views and the totality of his public record.

This is not a man who is repudiating his record. He’s not suggesting that any of his votes should have gone differently. This is not a situation of atonement and redemption. He’s just apologizing because his comments were “insensitive”.

But my measure of Hagel’s ability to fairly include gay civil servants and gay service people as Secretary of Defense is not based on comments made 14 years ago – or on this week’s apology. It is based on a career of votes that suggests to me that Chuck Hagel sees himself as a polite and kind man who holds no animus but who, when decisions are made, always has a reason why gay people cannot be treated equally.

And that is how I think he would be as Secretary of Defense.