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Interview with Marty Meehan
U.S. House Representative, 5th District, MA.

August 1, 2006
by Denny Meyer, Gay Military Signal

On March 2, 2005, Congressman Marty Meehan Introduced HR 1059, the Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2005.  The bill would replace "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the military's current policy prohibiting openly gay soldiers from serving, with a policy prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.*

Congressman Meehan has been an outspoken advocate of equal and fair treatment for gay men and lesbians. The Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2005 is not the Congressman's first attempt to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell.  In fact, the first amendment Meehan offered as a Congressman was to delete Don't Ask, Don't Tell provisions from the Fiscal Year 1994 Defense Authorization.*

Gay Military Signal interviewed Marty Meehan on July 27th 2006; the commentary below represents the gist of questions and responses in our discussion.

Gay Military Times: Thank you Congressman Meehan for your courage in introducing the Military Readiness Enhancement Act so that patriotic openly Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Americans may volunteer to serve our country.

Marty Meehan: The First amendment I introduced was in 1994 to lift ban on gays in military, in an appropriations bill, shortly after the Don't Ask Don't Tell law was implemented.

GMS: We very much appreciate the uphill battle you have taken on to end discrimination.

MM: Thinking back to 1994, we got 143 votes in favor of lifting the ban. Democrats were in power at that time, of course. My amendment got headlines in local papers in my district, some rather negative. I didn't care; it was the right thing to do. Now public opinion has shifted. At that time only 44 percent were in favor of allowing gays in the military. Now 63 percent are in favor, and only 32 percent are opposed.

GMS: (since you are neither a veteran nor gay) how did you get involved in this issue?

MM   I was appointed, as a freshman, to The Armed Services Committee. I felt strongly about gay and lesbian rights; so I was the appropriate person; in fact, I had run  opposing the ban; and offered the amendment to void the provisions of  Don't Ask Don't Tell.

At this point, Congressman Meehan recounted that it was he who had initiated the request for the General Accounting Office to evaluate the cost impact of the Don't Ask Don't Tell law, resulting in the GAO reporting that some 190 million dollars had been spent simply to replace those discharged by enforcing the DADT policy in the first ten years under the law. He saw the numbers indicating that those who had been discharged ,under DADT, represented a third of the military's readiness requirements, particularly in specialized skills.  More recently, Congressman Meehan joined the Blue Ribbon Commission of the Center For the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military (CSSMM) at the University of California, Santa Barbara in releasing the findings of a study they conducted subsequent to the GAO's investigation.  The study determined an even higher cost of 363 million resulting from the policy.
"The evidence is overwhelming," he said, "if every gay servicemember left (at once) we'd be in worse shape for military readiness" than the already overburdened armed forces are today.

  GMS: Why did you feel so strongly about this issue to take it up and introduce the Military Readiness Enhancement Act?

MM: I got involved in the issue in 1993 when it was not a popular position with constituents. I felt that it was important to not keep qualified people from serving. I met with many who had left so as not to live a lie; it is wrong to ask people to live (such a) lie. Our armed forces are serving with gay and lesbian British servicemembers in Iraq.  Nearly 60% of all coalition forces serving in Iraq are from countries that allow gay people to serve openly in their armed forces, including Australia, Italy, and Israel; there is overwhelming evidence that there is no (adverse) effect on unit morale. It angers me that we haven't changed.

GMS: What are you doing now and what have you been doing to get further co-sponsors of the Bill?

MM: We have 118 co-sponsors (I noted that I believed the current figure was 119; he was so modest that he'd failed to include himself), counting me there are 119. We are trying to get more Republicans to have the courage to sign on. Most know that it is the right thing to do; most congressmen know that it is the right policy; but they are afraid of backlash from constituents. We are working to convince them of the positive dividends of doing the right thing. The introduction of the Bill has moved pubic opinion to be more in favor than opposed to gay people serving openly in our armed forces.

GMS: What would you like to see activist advocates of the Bill do to promote its passage?

MM: Argue the merits of the case. Point out the negative impact of DADT on the security of the United States. The 911 Commission says that we need qualified linguists, particularly of Arabic, among other strategic skills. We need to let all those with skills, courage, and patriotism to be able to serve. For the sake of our national security we have to have the best military possible.

GMS: Could you talk about interactions with Senators regarding the Bill's introduction in the Senate?

MM: I have spoken with individual senators, including Senator Kennedy; but right now we are trying to increase the number of co-sponsors, though the influence of public opinion, by constantly raising the issue. We need to keep at it. I have hopes that the mid term elections will create an environment in which the Bill can get a hearing and a vote for passage.

GMS: What about partner benefits? The Bill contains a seemingly proforma and innocuous section that briefly states that it does not require providing dependent benefits in violation of provisions in the Defense of Marriage Act. Presumably this was included to separate the issues and avoid opposition?

MM: I support gay marriage. It would not cost any more than current benefits given to others. The idea was, in fact, to separate the issues.

GMS: Would you consider reviewing that section and possibly simply omitting it when the Bill is resubmitted in the next session of Congress?

MM: Absolutely, I will review this. I agree with what you said, I think that those groups involved in the movement felt that we did not want to give groups opposed to gay marriage rights an excuse to oppose the Bill if it were seen as conflicting with DOMA. If we could lift the ban, giving the same benefits as other get would be an easier matter.

It is not realistic to think there could be passage of the Bill in this session of Congress. But we have made enormous progress. Hopefully after the midterm elections, in the next session, we can move forward.

Congressman Marty Meehan was first elected to the US House of Representatives in 1992. Born in Lowell, MA, he is oldest son in a family of seven children, he grew up in a working class neighborhood and attended Lowell public schools. He received a BA degree at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, and earned a law degree as well as a Masters in Public Administration at Suffolk University of Boston. Congressman Meehan and his wife, Ellen, a Vice President at Lawrence General Hospital, are the proud parents of two sons.*

*The first two and last paragraphs, on Congressman Meehan's background, are derived, respectively, from his websites,
http://www.house.gov/meehan/issues-dadt.html and http://www.martymeehan.com/index09ce.html?s=About+Marty