The U.S. Senate is scheduled to vote Tuesday on legislation that could overturn policies barring openly gay individuals from serving in the military and barring elective abortions on military bases.
Though the Pentagon has yet to complete a study on the potential impact of lifting "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," a repeal of the Clinton-era policy has been included as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, S. 3454, along with a repeal of a longstanding restriction on elective, privately funded abortions in military health care facilities.
"This is one of the Senate's most critical votes of the year – and potentially life-altering for our military," remarked Dr. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
"Repealing the current 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy would strain our forces, weaken troop morale, and compel countless chaplains to leave the services," he stated in a memo Monday. "It would also defy the counsel of the four service chiefs of staff and more than 1,100 retired Flag & General Officers for the Military-all of whom have urged Congress not to vote now on changing the current policy."
Put in place in 1993 by the executive order of then-President Bill Clinton, the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy – as its name suggests – bars openly gay individuals from serving in the U.S. military and also bars the military from asking service members their sexual orientation.
The policy was enacted in 1993 after Congress passed a law that same year banning homosexuals from serving in the military.
While opponents of DADT say the policy is simply discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, supporters say the policy is necessary as its repeal could create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability.
"[T]he military has numerous service restrictions, because, as the 1993 law finds, '[m]ilitary life is fundamentally different from civilian life,'" noted ERLC's Land.
Furthermore, DADT supporters point out that there is no constitutional right to serve in the military, but there is one protecting religious liberty – which could be jeopardized if DADT is repealed.
In a press conference Monday at the headquarters of the Family Research Council, a group of predominantly African-American pastors expressed their concern about the implications for religious liberty of allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the military.
"Bishop [Harry] Jackson noted, for example, that chaplains could be forbidden to preach from biblical passages that condemn homosexuality, or suffer discipline or adverse personnel actions for refusing to affirm it," reported FRC President Tony Perkins.
"And I pointed out that the military would likely lose far more personnel than it would gain from the tiny portion of the population that is homosexual," he added.
Land has similarly noted the potential fallout that could result as the admission of openly homosexual individuals into the military could "engender sexual tension."
In a letter last week to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, Land said he and his organization are "gravely concerned" that the repeal of DADT "would result in the resignation of large numbers of personnel who are currently serving in our all-volunteer services, and that it will be extremely difficult to recruit their replacements."
Land has also spoken out against the amendment to the Defense Authorization bill that would allow elective abortions on military installations in the United States and abroad.
'[O]verturning the anti-abortion law would turn our military hospitals into abortion mills. These facilities were intended to be centers to help restore sick and injured troops, not to take the lives of our servicewomen's unborn children. Also troubling, pro-life physicians would be put in a tough position of standing on their convictions or buckling under pressure to perform abortions," he noted Monday.
According to the latest reports, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) still lacks the 60 votes needed to block further debate over the bill in the Senate though strong efforts were made to recruit Maine's two Republican senators – Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.
Though both senators oppose DADT and have yet to announce how they plan to vote, there has been indication that the two senators will stand by fellow Republicans against allowing the bill to proceed without further debate.
A spokesman for Collins said the senator "would like the Senate to proceed to a full and open debate on the Defense Authorization bill, with members able to offer amendments on all relevant issues."
In a statement last week, Snowe similarly said the chamber should be allowed a full debate on the measure. Snowe also questioned why the Senate would vote on repeal before the military has completed its review.
"We should all have the opportunity to review that report which is to be completed on December 1, as we reevaluate this policy and the implementation of any new changes," Snowe's statement said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has advised members of Congress to wait until after the Pentagon finishes its review – due on Dec. 1 – of the effects of repealing DADT before changing the rule.
President Obama, who backs the repeal of DADT, has sided with Gates. The White House worked out a compromise back in May so that even if Congress passes a repeal of the policy, it would not be effective until after the Pentagon completes its study.
A vote on Reid's motion for cloture on the chamber's Defense Authorization bill is scheduled to take place after the Senate convenes Tuesday morning and takes care of its morning business.
With a filibuster appearing most likely as of Monday, lawmakers may have to leave the legislation to be taken up during the lame-duck session after Nov. 2.