December 01, 2013

ABA supports measure to restore honor to those affected by Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy

ABA President James R. Silkenat expressed the ABA’s support last month for H.R. 2839, a bill to restore honor to veterans who were discharged due solely to their sexual orientation but did not receive an “honorable” characterization of service.

These veterans, according to Silkenat, have an “undeserved blemish” on their service records that can create significant obstacles to seeking employment and prevent them from receiving the same benefits that are received by veterans who received “honorable” characterizations of service.

It has been two years since repeal of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) policy that banned openly gay individuals from serving in the military, but there are “thousands of veterans who are still experiencing the consequences of that policy and its even more oppressive predecessors,” Silkenat emphasized in a Nov. 21 letter to Reps. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), chairman, and Susan Davis (D-Calif.), ranking member, of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel.

The legislation would provide veterans who were discharged due solely to their sexual orientation an opportunity to request that their characterization of service be upgraded. The bill also would ensure that any indication of sexual orientation will be removed from the records of servicemembers who received “honorable” discharges.

“By providing an opportunity for servicemembers affected by DADT to request an upgrade to their discharge characterizations, the legislation would alleviate some of the consequences that continue to plague those veterans,” Silkenat said. “Moreover,” he said, “amending discharge records to remove mention of any servicemember’s sexual orientation will lessen the possibility of servicemembers being discriminated against when they would otherwise be able to keep their sexual orientation private.”

Silkenat highlighted the ABA’s long tradition of actively opposing discrimination, including the association’s opposition to enactment of DADT in 1993 because the policy established a form of discrimination not based on the character of the servicemember’s contribution to the national defense.

The association approved policy in 2010 supporting repeal of DADT, maintaining that there was “no sufficient reason to deprive lesbian, gay or bisexual men and women of the opportunity to serve our country.”

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