Rep. Calls for End to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

(CBS)
Rep. Patrick Murphy, a Pennsylvania Democrat and Iraq war veteran, today called for an end to the "discriminatory" policy known as "don't ask, don't tell" that prohibits gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military.

"The policy is not working for armed services, and it hurts our national security," Murphy (pictured at left) said at a speech at Washington's National Press Club, where he appeared with gay and straight service members supporting repeal of the policy.

The event was a kickoff to the "Voices Of Honor" national tour sponsored by gay rights groups the Human Rights Campaign and Servicemembers United that features members of the military who oppose the Clinton-era compromise that allows gays to serve only if they keep their sexuality a secret. Murphy's office also helped set up a Web site called www.letthemserve.com.

"Opponents of lifting the ban argue that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly will be detrimental to unit cohesion and morale," the congressman said. "As a former officer and West Point professor, that is an insult to me and to all of the troops serving in uniform. In Iraq, my men did not care what race, color, creed or sexual orientation their fellow paratroopers were. They cared about getting the job done. We cared about serving with honor and coming home alive." (Watch Murphy's full remarks here.)

Murphy vowed to take the lead in pushing through Congress the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, which would overturn the policy. He noted that President Obama has vowed to sign the bill if it crosses his desk and said it is Congress' responsibility to make that happen.

The president has taken heat from gay rights groups for not pushing harder for the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" or the Defense Of Marriage Act, something he promised to work toward as a candidate. Gay rights groups were particularly outraged by a brief filed by the Obama Justice Department defending DOMA that compared gay marriage to marriage between family members.

More than 13,000 service members have been discharged under "don't ask, don't tell," including nearly 300 under Mr. Obama. The White House insists the policy must be overturned through legislation, though some say the president could suspend it via executive order should he decide to do so.

Military leaders have suggested they are in the early stages of considering how best they might repeal the policy and stressed that they do not want to hurry the process.

"We look forward to ensuring that our military can recruit and retain the best and the brightest troops regardless of their sexual orientation," Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said in a statement. "As this tour will highlight, poll after poll continues to show the vast majority of Americans, including the majority of active service members, support the right of gay and lesbian service members to serve openly and honestly."

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