Bicameral Bill Would Help Recognize Gay and Lesbian Service Members for Honorable Military Service
U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and U.S. Representatives Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.) and Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) Wednesday introduced the Restore Honor to Service Members Act, legislation that will help service members discharged solely due to their sexual orientation correct their military records to reflect their honorable service and reinstate the benefits they earned.
“From the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ to the Supreme Court’s historic ruling on marriage equality, we have made great strides in the fight to end discrimination. But there is still more work to be done to protect and promote full equality and ensure we help right our past wrongs,” said Schatz. “Today, thousands of brave men and women who served our country are still denied the benefits and honorable service record they deserve. It’s long past time we honor our commitment to all our service members and finally restore the dignity of gay and lesbian veterans who were unjustly discharged from our military.”
“The Restore Honor to Service Members Act will help streamline the process for veterans to clear their records of discriminatory discharges,” said Gillibrand. “Veterans who honorably serve our nation should not be defending themselves against unwarranted punishment based solely on sexual orientation. Our service members deserve to receive the recognition they earned for their sacrifice and courage.”
“As our nation continues to make great strides toward full equality, we must also do everything possible to rectify the effects of past discriminatory policies,” said Pocan. “Our veterans risked their lives for our country, and it is crucial that those discharged from the armed forces due to their sexual orientation receive the recognition and benefits they deserve. The Restore Honor to Service Members Act streamlines this process, ensuring their service is respected and valued in the eyes of our country.”
“I am proud to re-introduce the Restore Honor to Service Members Act together with Senator Schatz and Congressman Pocan,” said Rangel. “As a Korean War veteran, I understand how much this recognition means for our Service Members who faced discrimination. It is about time we pay proper tribute to the veterans who deserve to be honored for their valiant service to our country. Seeking redress for them is not only the right thing to do but also will correct historical injustice.”
Since World War II, more than 100,000 Americans are estimated to have been discharged from the military because of their sexual orientation. Those forced out of the military may have left with discharge statuses of “other than honorable,” “general discharge” or “dishonorable,” depending on the circumstances. As a consequence, many of these service members may be disqualified from accessing certain benefits that they earned and are entitled to, and may not be able to claim veteran status. The consequences of a negative discharge also include preventing some veterans from voting or making it more difficult for them to acquire civilian employment.
The legislation is supported by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, VoteVets.org, OutServe-SLDN, the Human Rights Campaign, American Veterans for Equal Rights, Lambda Legal, Swords to Plowshares, the American Bar Association, Universal Unitarian Association, and the American Humanist Association.
The Restore Honor to Service Members Act is also cosponsored in the Senate by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawai’i), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.). In addition to Representatives Pocan and Rangel, the bill has 97 cosponsors and has bipartisan support in the House of Representatives.