Bill Would Restore Honorable Discharges to Gay Soldiers

Reps. Charlie Rangel and Mark Pocan have submitted a bill that would restore honorable discharges to more than a hundred thousand soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who were given dishonorable discharges from the military merely for being gay.

Almost two years since the landmark repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” tens of thousands of gay veterans who served this country with honor and dignity possess records that remain blemished with a range of discharges because of their sexuality. To support the Department of Defense’s efforts to rectify this injustice, U.S. Representatives Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Charlie Rangel (D-NY) today proposed legislation, the “Restore Honor to Service Members Act,” that would ensure gay and lesbian service members who were discharged for no other reason than their sexual orientation have their records upgraded to reflect their honorable service.

Since World War II to the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” in 2011, approximately 114,000 service members were discharged because of their sexual orientation.

“As we celebrate the considerable progress we’ve made toward full equality in our military, we cannot forget about those who continue to suffer because of the discriminatory policies of our past,” said Pocan, co-chair of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus. “Our legislation ensures that gay veterans who selflessly served our country no longer live with tarnished records that prohibit them from receiving the recognition, benefits and honors they deserve. By enshrining the implementation of the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” repeal into law, our country can finally close this dark chapter of our history and move forward.”

“As an American, a Congressman, and a Korean War Veteran, I was proud to join my colleagues in ending the discriminatory law that previously barred open gay and lesbian soldiers from serving their country,” said Rangel. “Now is the time to finish the job and ensure that all those who served honorably are recognized for their Honorable service regardless of their sexual orientation.”

“The repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was a tremendous first step in achieving equality in our nation’s Armed Forces. It is important that we continue to address the discrimination that LGBT veterans face by updating their service records to reflect the reality of their service” said HRC Legislative Director Allison Herwitt. “We are thankful that Reps. Pocan (D-WI) and Rangel (D-NY) have addressed this issue with the “Restore Honor to Service Members Act.’”

The “Restore Honor to Service Members Act” is about more than upgrading a piece of paper. Every form of discharge previously given out prior to the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” carries with it consequences that can follow a service member for his or her entire life. While the character of discharge varied, many members received discharges that were classified as other than honorable or dishonorable, particularly prior to the implementation of the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy in 1993. In many states, a dishonorable discharge is treated as a felony, and service members receiving a general discharge, a lesser offense, can encounter grave difficulties acquiring civilian employment. All were barred from reenlisting in the military. Depending on the discharge received, service members may also be blocked from voting, unemployment benefits, participating in the GI Bill or receiving veteran benefits such as health care, VA disability, and ceremonial burial rights at military cemeteries.

The “Restore Honor to Service Members Act,” turns the current broad review policy outlined in a memo from the Under Secretary of Defense into clear and settled law. It ensures all services members who were previously discharged because of their sexual orientation receive a timely, consistent and transparent review of their records so that gay veterans who served honorably have their records rightfully upgraded to honorable. It also removes any indication of a service member’s sexual orientation from the record, so they are not automatically “outed” to those accessing their record and protects against future discrimination by decriminalizing consensual relations between same sex couples, bringing military law in line with Supreme Court rulings.

This is a great idea, but I’d bet that the Republicans in the House will kill it. “Support the troops” only extends to the ones they approve of. Besides, there are bigots that must be pandered to.

13 comments on this post.
  1. lldayo:

    I think the House may actually vote for this. Consider that most of their constituents are against gay marriage but the majority of people are for it this may be enough of a “middle of the road” subject that would be favorable for them to vote for. “Hate the sin, not the sinner” might even rear its ugly head.

  2. Who Knows?:

    Fuck Yeah! I could finally get an honorable discharge!

  3. Who Knows?:

    I served very close to 5 years in the Army and was a Sergeant before I received a general discharge for “Homosexuality, bisexuality, or attempted marriage to someone of the same biological sex.” I really hope this passes.

  4. Artor:

    This would be a nice start. I wonder if they would offer re-enlistment at previous rank for those who still wish to participate? Back pay or an appropriate severance package for wrongful discharge would be nice too.

  5. Nemo:

    I’m shocked that this wasn’t already part of the DADT repeal bill, or even DADT itself for that matter.

  6. Ace of Sevens:

    I thought dishonorable discharges were only before DADT and under DADT, gay people who got found out were given general discharges. I take it things are more complicated than that?

  7. justsomeguy:

    “…blemished with a range of discharges…”

    EEEEEEEEEWWWWWWWW

  8. tbp1:

    And cue the right-wing freak out in 3…2…1…

  9. tynk:

    Ok, this is fucking AWESOME!

    I made it through 8 years keeping who I am hidden.
    There are many who were not able to.

    This needs to be done. Now… kk thx

  10. Vall:

    Ace,
    There has been a full spectrum of policies so the results will vary. A dishonorable discharge is the result of a court martial. It’s “judicial.” Commanding officers can do everything else up to that point. “non-judicial.” Many people think there is honorable or dishonorable and that’s it. A general discharge covers everything in between. Having to explain that fact to a typical HR type can be difficult during interviews. That’s why this bill is important.

  11. Abby Normal:

    I’ll take a crack at the WND headline, “Dems Make Law Declaring Homosexuals ‘Honorable’.”

  12. Modusoperandi:

    I’m sure the Small Government, Libertarian, Tea Partiers will vote for it.

  13. Joshua:

    But if you give Honorable Discharges to the gays it will destroy traditional Honorable Discharge!

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