Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), who introduced the Military Readiness Enhancement Act in March, officially left office late last month to take on the position of Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.
Murphy, 35, was elected in 2006, becoming the first Iraq War veteran to serve in Congress. He is a former prosecutor and West Point professor who earned a Bronze Star for his years of service, which included time as a captain in the 82nd Airborne Division of the Army.
Murphy served as a cosponsor of the 2007 Military Readiness Enhancement Act, which died in committee.
The current version of the bill has 151 cosponsors and is in the House Armed Services Committee.
Congress approved “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 1993 under President Clinton as a compromise to the former blanket ban on LGBT servicemembers; although such individuals are currently permitted to enter the armed services, they cannot disclose their sexual orientation.
Murphy said his own experience as a veteran motivated him to step up to lead the fight against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“As an Iraq War veteran, I’ve seen how this policy has hurt our national security. Since this was implemented 16 years ago, over 13,000 troops have been discharged; that’s over three combat brigades,” Murphy told PGN this week. “With wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we need every able-bodied and qualified individual who’s willing to serve. It shouldn’t matter what race, color, creed or sexual orientation they are.”
Murphy announced the leadership change during a press conference July 8 in Washington, D.C. The lawmaker was joined by representatives of the Human Rights Campaign and Servicemembers United, along with openly gay former Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, the first veteran wounded in the Iraq War; Jarrod Chlapowski, a former Korean linguist with the U.S. Army who decided not to reenlist because of the policy; Army Staff Sgt. Genevieve Chase, executive director of American Women Veterans; and Alex Nicholson, Servicemembers United executive director, who, despite being fluent in Arabic and several other languages, was discharged from the Army under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Nicholson noted that Murphy’s military experience will bring a new perspective and enhanced credibility to the repeal bill.
“Congressman Murphy’s position on this outdated and discriminatory law represents the sentiment of the vast majority of the generation of men and women serving in the modern military, and we could not have a better person leading the fight to overturn that law,” he said.
Murphy said he’s planning to take a multi-tiered approach to repealing the policy, focusing on heightening awareness of the detrimental effects of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” among both legislators and their constituents.
“I need to meet one on one with my colleagues in Congress on both sides of the aisle and convince them as to why we need to change this policy. And we’re kicking off a national campaign to also let the public know why it’s important to act on this now.”
Veterans — both gay and straight — will be traveling the country the rest of the summer educating the public on the policy through “Voices of Honor: A Generation Under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” organized by Servicemembers United and HRC.
The participants will host panel discussions, town-hall meetings, film screenings and meetings with elected officials in 10 states, including Pennsylvania, before the end of the summer. Campaign organizers are currently lining up more events for the fall.
During the press conference, Murphy also announced the launch of a new Web site, www.letthemserve.org, which will encourage and enable visitors to contact their lawmakers and press for the repeal of the policy.
Joe Solmonese, HRC president, commended Murphy for taking over the bill and noted that his stature as a war vet could be integral to success.
“We applaud Rep. Murphy, a veteran of the Iraq war, for his leadership on repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and his willingness to take on the fight for the LGBT community and our country’s national security,” Solmonese said. “Rep. Murphy’s background as a war veteran makes him uniquely qualified to help lead this effort and work with the administration to repeal this law. We look forward to ensuring that our military can recruit and retain the best and the brightest troops regardless of their sexual orientation.”
Paul DeMiglio, communications manager at Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said opponents of the military ban are “very fortunate” to have Murphy leading the fight.
“We believe he brings unique expertise as an Iraq veteran, as well as commitment to ending discrimination and a passion for ending ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” DeMiglio said. “This change in leadership should be a catalyst to rededicate our efforts to get 218 cosponsors so we can pass the bill.”
President Obama, who made a campaign pledge to overturn “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” has recently come under fire from LGBT activists calling on him to put an immediate halt to discharges under the policy. Obama has stated, however, that he believes a measured approach to build support for repeal by military and congressional leaders is more appropriate.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last week that he’s interested in seeing the policy become “more humane,” suggesting that servicemembers intentionally outed by third parties should not be considered for discharge.
Murphy expressed confidence that the end of the policy is in sight.
“Change isn’t easy, and it doesn’t happen overnight,” he said. “But we’re committed to changing this policy. It may take months and we’re going to have a lot of work, but we’re going to make it happen.”
Jen Colletta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.