Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A civil rights victory Republicans won't claim

By DeWayne Wickham

You can bet it won’t take 142 years for Republicans to run away from this civil rights victory.

The recent ruling by a California federal judge that the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” law is unconstitutional comes in a 6-year-old case brought by Log Cabin Republicans, a fringe group within the GOP that champions gay and lesbian rights. The policy, which allows gays and lesbians to serve in the military as long as they keep secret their sexual orientation, has been in place since 1993.

Shortly before this “don’t ask, don’t tell” decision was rendered, Republicans were consumed with talk of rolling back a civil rights victory they won in 1868 with ratification of the 14th amendment. Among other things, that constitutional amendment granted citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States” who are subject to this country’s jurisdiction.

For nearly a century and a half, Republicans took great pride in claiming this important addition to our nation’s founding document. But their rabid attempts to stem the flow of illegal aliens across our borders have pushed many leading Republicans to call for making the children of these people an exception to this amendment.

Now many of those very same Republicans might soon be doing battle with a wing of their party that has found little space for its members inside the GOP pup tent. But in celebrating his group’s legal victory, Log Cabin Executive Director R. Clarke Cooper directed his initial fire at Democrats, who overwhelmingly back congressional efforts to end the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The Senate’s Democratic leadership, he said in a partisan shot that seemed intended to forestall the inevitable GOP infighting, failed to schedule a vote on a repeal measure after the Senate Armed Services Committee passed it in May.

That was a weak attempt by Cooper to deflect attention away from the fact that 11 of 12 Republicans on the Armed Services Committee voted against the repeal measure and Arizona Sen. John McCain, its ranking GOP member, threatened a filibuster if it was brought up for a vote on the Senate floor. Cooper also failed to mention that when a similar bill was passed in the House, only five Republicans voted for it while 168 GOP lawmakers voted against it.

Ostensibly, Republicans say they oppose taking any action on “don’t ask, don’t tell” until the Pentagon completes a study on the impact of its repeal on the military. But that’s a smoke screen for their long-standing opposition to gays and lesbians serving in this nation’s armed services. If Republicans win control of either House of Congress in November, there’s little chance that a bill ending “don’t ask, don’t tell” will win final passage.

But even as the GOP lawmakers distance themselves from the federal court victory won by their Log Cabin colleagues, there’s a strong likelihood the question of whether gays and lesbians can openly serve in the military will be decided by the courts — not on Capitol Hill. Even so, a final adjudication of this matter could be years away.

In the meantime, Republicans will be forced to decide whether they want to wage a two-front campaign to deny birthright citizenship to children born in this country to illegal immigrants and fight a rear-guard battle to thwart the efforts of gays and lesbians to serve openly in this nation’s armed forces.

It’s times like these that the party of Abraham Lincoln seems to have lost its way.

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