correspondence

Senate’s Longest Serving Bigot Robert Byrd Came Around On DADT – 6 Days Before He Died

Though back in 1993 when Don’t Ask Don’t Tell became law Sen. Robert Byrd didn’t want homosexuals serving openly in the military, he appears to have changed his mind. Days before he died at age 92, Byrd would pen a letter to a constituent saying repealing the law “does not change the composition of our Armed Forces — it merely allows troops to continue to do their jobs without fear of dismissal or blackmailing because of their personal life.”

The letter, dated June 22, 2010, would be sent to Jim McKay — the state coordinator of Prevent Child Abuse WV, and a blogger — just six days before the West Virgina Democrat — who once organized KKK rallies and personally spent 14 hours filibustering the 1964 Civil Rights Act — would die. It shows a softening of the nonagenarian lawmaker’s views, though it’s unclear whether it also means Byrd would live to regret voting for 1996’s Defense of Marriage Act, where he infamously said, “The drive for same-sex marriage is, in effect, an effort to make a sneak attack on society by encoding this aberrant behavior in legal form before society itself has decided it should be legal. […] Let us defend the oldest institution, the institution of marriage between male and female as set forth in the Holy Bible.”

Byrd’s letter read:

Dear Mr. McKay,

Thank you for consulting my office to express your views about proposed changes to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the Armed Forces of the United States. I appreciate your taking the time to provide me with the benefit of your thinking on this matter.

In 1993, when the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” statue (10 USC 654) was initially enacted the prohibition on homosexuals serving in the military ended. However, considers remained that allowing gay soldiers to serve openly would adversely affect the military: therefore, Congress crafted legislation to address these concerns. During the intervening years, however, the concerns failed to materialize.

Repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” does not change the composition of our Armed Forces — it merely allows troops to continue to do their jobs without fear of dismissal or blackmailing because of their personal life.

On February 2, 2010, both Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen appeared before the Senate Committee on Armed Services and said that they favored ending this restriction on military service. Secretary Gates announced that he had directed a comprehensive review to understand the implications of ending the policy.

On May, 2010, the House of Representatives passed legislation that would enable the repeal of this legislation, but only 60 days after the following conditions were met:

1. That any repeal cannot go into effect until after the working group has issued its report regarding how repeal of the statute should be implemented. That report is due on December 1, 2010.

2. That the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify in writing that repeal “is consistent with the standards of military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention of the Armed Forces.”

According to a letter from the Administration on May 24, 2010, this legislation met the concerns raised by Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and “recognized the critical need to allow our military and their families the full opportunity to inform and shape the implementation process through a thorough understanding of their concerns, insights, and suggestions.”

I requested the addition of the 60-day period between the certification and the repeal for congressional hearings to be held to ensure that the policy changes associated with the repeal are consistent with the best interests of our Armed Forces.

On May 28, 2010, the Senate Committee on Armed Services reported the Fiscal Year 2011 National Defense Authorization Act, which includes a provision identical to the one passed by the House. The full senate is expected to take up the National Defense Authorization Act later this year.

With kind regards, I am

Sincerely yours,

Robert C. Byrd

McKay forwarded that letter to Sen. Joe Manchin’s office.