ABC News' Luis Martinez reports: Today’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell hearing was memorable on many fronts; namely Adm. Mike Mullen’s strong personal statement that gays should serve openly in the military because it “would be the right thing to do” and Sen. John McCain’s strident claim that Defense Secretary Gates and Mullen were bypassing congressional input in suggesting a repeal.
In many ways Mullen’s remarks overshadowed Gates’ announcement that the Pentagon would undertake a year-long study to measure attitudes among military servicemembers in potential planning and a quick review of recommendations to carry out a more humane version of the policy until said time that Congress works out a possible repeal.
In expressing his personal belief to the Senate Armed Services Committee that “allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do, ” Mullen became the highest ranking active-duty officer to ever step forward in support of ending the ban on gays serving openly in the military.
He told the panel, “ No matter how I look at this issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens or me personally, it comes down to integrity, theirs as individuals and ours as an institution.”
Mullen said he had developed his opinion over the years for a variety of reasons. He pointed out that he had been serving alongside gays ever since he began his Navy career in 1968 and that it was likely that Sen. McCain had as well, “everybody in the military has.”
Yet, some Republican senators on the Committee were of the opinion that Mullen and Gates were simply following the lead of their Commander in Chief.
Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) suggested servicemembers serving under Mullen might under “undue command influence” given his comments today. Mullen disagreed with the senator saying it was about leadership and saying very clearly that this was something he took very seriously.
Chairman Carl Levin finished the hearing praising Mullen’s eloquence in stating his personal opinion, calling it a “profile in leadership” and that “this was a view that you hold in your conscience and not giving to us because you were directed to by anybody, including the Commander in Chief.”
After the hearing, Levin told reporters that he had heard Mullen express a similar opinion in a private meeting.
But the strongest critic at today’s session was Senator McCain, who told Gates he was “deeply disappointed” by his testimony because it was “clearly biased without the view of Congress being taken into consideration” as it was in 1993 when he had worked on the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell legislation.
When he asked Gates what kinds of civil unions or partnerships might be respected by a new law that might replace Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Gates replied that would be one of the things that would have to be looked at.
McCain cited that as another example of how the military was preparing for change without hearing from Congress, the Joint Chiefs and without “taking into consideration all the ramifications of the law.”
He finished his questioning by bluntly saying, “Well, I'm glad to say that we still have a Congress of the United States that would have to act to repeal Don't Ask,Don'tTell despite your efforts to repeal it, in many respects, by fiat.”
Another memorable voice at today’s hearing was Sen. Roland Burris (D-Il) who is best known for the ethics travails he endured in filling out Barack Obama’s senate seat. He compared the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell to President Truman’s integration of the military.
“At one time, my uncles and members of my race couldn't even serve in the military. And we moved to this point where they're some of the best and brightest that we've had -- generals and even now the commander in chief is of African-American heritage,” Burris said.
He argued, “We must have everyone who is capable, willing and able to volunteer to defend this country, defend this great American tradition of ours to have the opportunity to serve regardless to their sexual orientation.”
Burris doesn’t want the debate to take long and become what he called a waste of taxpayer’s time and energy “on something that is so basic in human rights and opportunities for individuals in this country.”