On Saturday, Congress got rid of the odious Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy which banned queer folks from serving in the military. Illinois’s junior senator, Republican Mark Kirk, ended up voting for its repeal, as some suspected and many hoped.
The final vote was 65-31 with a handful of others GOPers crossing the line.
“When a soldier answers the call to serve and risks life or limb, it has never mattered to me whether they are gay or straight,” Sen. Scott Brown of Massachussets, one of the Republicans supporting repeal said. “My only concern has been whether their service and sacrifice is with pride and honor.”
There were lovely words too from other senators, GOPers included, about the bravery of gay soldiers, or the need to do the right thing for equality.
But not so from Mark Kirk. It wasn’t until just before the DADT vote came to the floor that he had anything at all to say about his position.
Lynn Sweet at the Sun-Times reported a deliberate strategy of silence around his vote:
“While Kirk was keeping his head down on how he would vote on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ behind the scenes, he told Lieberman and Collins last week they would likely have his support on a stand-alone bill—giving them confidence to push ahead. As a matter of tactics, Kirk’s name did not surface as a supporter in order to insulate him from pressure, I was told, and to preserve his backing.”
(As a matter of fact, I did report Kirk’s yes vote early, in a Dec. 8 post, based on a conversation with an aide to Sen. Joe Lieberman, DADT’s senate champ).
Why does Mark Kirk need to be protected? In right-wing Republican circles, his relatively positive record on gay rights matters—as a congressman, he voted against a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman, for a Hate Crimes bill that included sexual orientation, and against job discrimination based on sexual orientation—makes his own sexuality suspect. During the senate campaign, his ex-wife even had to step up and vouch for his "manliness."
Is Mark Kirk gay? Frankly, I don’t know. Most importantly, I don’t care—it’s about as important as the sexual orientation of our soldiers in the trenches.
I do, however, think those rumors are getting to Kirk. His statement in support of DADT repeal was a mess of sidestepping and obfuscation. He refers to the bill by its formal name, instead of to its substance. And he carefully avoids the words “gay” or “sexual orientation” or any other term that might describe the people who are actually affected by this legislation. He refers to “the policy” various times without even naming it. In fact, the very words “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” don’t even show up until the parenthetical coda. And the notion of civil rights is utterly absent from Kirk’s statement.
John McCain, who accosted Kirk on the senate floor for his support of repeal, called Saturday “a sad day.” And it is indeed a sad day when a senator supports historic human rights change and pretends it was merely a minor personnel policy.
Here’s Kirk's statement in its entirety:
Senator Kirk Statement in Favor of S. 4023, the Collins-Lieberman Bill:
Over the last several months, I urged Congress to wait for the considered judgment of our uniformed military through the Joint Chiefs of Staff's report before changing the policy. If we are to eliminate one military personnel policy, we must have a new one that is easily understood to guide the First Sergeants and Navy Chiefs who really run our squadrons, squads and ships.
I very carefully read the Joint Chiefs of Staff report and met at length with Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Gary Roughead. Following their exhaustive and considered military judgment, I support the Joint Chief's recommendation to implement the repeal of the current policy once the battle effectiveness of the forces is certified and proper preparations are complete. The legislation before us provides our military leaders with the time they requested to change the policy. Without this legislation, Admiral Roughead warned that courts, like California's federal courts, would issue further confusing stop and start orders to our military, causing chaos in our military recruitment and retention programs. In the end, the Constitution charges the Congress with setting military policy and the Executive branch with implementing it. The legislation containing the recommendations of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will remove the various orders of conflicting and uncertain court litigation from our military, allowing uniformed leaders to once again effectively manage our national defense. As a 21-year Navy Reserve officer, I believe it is important for military leaders, not federal judges, to run our armed forces."
Note: As federal courts took control of military policy, the Department of Defense has been recently ordered to both start and stop the Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) policy. After ruling that the DADT policy was unconstitutional, a California federal district court imposed a world-wide injunction on the policy on October 12, 2010 (Log Cabin Republicans vs. U.S.). The Department of Defense then suspended DADT. Two days later, the Obama Administration filed an emergency stay of the district court's ruling which was rejected. On appeal, the 9th Circuit Appellate Court granted the Obama Administration's stay of the district court's order on October 20th. The Department of Defense then reinstated the DADT policy, pending further litigation. On November 12, the Supreme Court denied a motion to vacate the temporary stay, allowing the main case on the merits to go forward in California's 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The final disposition of the case for or against DADT is unclear.