House Panel Backs Limits on Gay Rights in Military
WASHINGTON (AP) - Eight months after the military allowed gays to serve openly - and on the same day that President Barack Obama declared his support for same-sex marriage - the House Armed Services Committee backed measures limiting the rights of gays and lesbians.
The panel stepped into the gays in the military issue as it considered a sweeping, $642 billion defense bill for next year that buys new weapons, ships and aircraft, increases military pay by 1.7 percent and sets policies for the Pentagon. The committee worked through the day Wednesday and into the early morning Thursday on the legislation that adds billions of dollars to the president’s budget request.
The committee fleshed out a blueprint for next year that calls for a base defense budget of $554 billion, including nuclear weapons spending, plus $88 billion for the war in Afghanistan and counterterrorism efforts. That compares with the administration’s proposal of $551 billion, plus $88 billion.
Conservative Republicans still angry with the end to the "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy on gays in the military pressed two measures.
"The president has repealed ’don’t ask, don’t tell’ and is using the military as props to promote his gay agenda," said Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., who is running for Senate.
The committee, on a vote of 37-24, backed an amendment that barred same-sex marriages or "marriage-like" ceremonies on military installations. The panel also endorsed an Akin amendment that said the services should accommodate the rights of conscience of members of the services and chaplains who are morally or religiously opposed to expressions of human sexuality.
In an odd exchange, Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., questioned what would happen if a service member literally interpreted the Old Testament’s Leviticus, which considers homosexuality an abomination. Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., disputed her contention that was part of the Bible, saying it was the Old Testament.
"Members of this committee are looking to turn back the clock and find new ways to discriminate against gay and lesbian service members," said Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state, the top Democrat on the committee. "These men and women serve with honor and distinction and this amendment sends a message that their service is not valued."
Earlier in the day, the committee backed construction of a missile defense site on the East Coast, rejecting Pentagon arguments that the facility is unnecessary and Democratic complaints that the nearly $5 billion project amounts to wasteful spending in a time of tight budgets.
In rancorous, lengthy debate, Republicans insisted that the site is necessary in the event that Iran or North Korea develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of attacking the East Coast. Democrats countered that throwing billions of dollars at a missile defense system plagued by failures made no sense, especially when the threat from the two nations was highly uncertain and many in Washington are demanding fiscal discipline.
This "would be spending up to $5 billion in the next three years on a missile defense system that doesn’t work," said Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., who offered an amendment to eliminate the project from the GOP-backed bill.