WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss is taking some flak over his recent statements about gays in the military.
During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing earlier this week, Chambliss (R-Ga.) said he disagrees with the Pentagon’s top brass and thinks the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy toward gays should be continued.
Ending the policy, Chambliss said, could lead to watering down of other military rules, such as those regarding alcohol, adultery, fraternization and tattoos.
He also said he thinks homosexuality could pose a risk to military discipline.
Gay rights activists say the comments show that Chambliss is out of touch. Even on some right-leaning blogs and Web sites, some writers who described themselves as Republicans derided Chambliss’ comments.
In a statement, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force said Chambliss and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), another opponent, “have their head in the sand on the true impact of the existing law.”
“Contrary to their statements, the real story is ‘Live and don’t make a living. Live and lie,’ ” said Rea Carey, executive director of the group.
Thursday, Chambliss said he “absolutely” stands by his comments and expressed surprise at some of the criticism.
“I think I’m getting a lot of kudos,” too, he said in an interview.
Chambliss said his remarks were meant to emphasize his thoughts on the potential loss of disciplinary control in the military if the “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule is dropped.
“We control people’s lives in the military,” he said.
At the hearing, Chambliss said, “In my opinion, the presence in the armed forces of persons who demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts would very likely create an unacceptable risk to [the military’s] high standards of morale, good order and discipline and effective unit cohesion.”
The current system works, Chambliss said Thursday, and “I think it makes no sense at all to change it and run the risk of creating morale and systemic problems that aren’t there now.”
He blamed the media for mischaracterizing some of his comments.
“Of course, as usual, some folks in the media tend to misconstrue what you say,” he said.
Another gay rights advocacy group, the Human Rights Campaign, called Chambliss’ arguments unfounded.
“I think Senator Chambliss needs to give our military a lot more credit,” said David Stacy, deputy legislative director for the Human Rights Campaign. “We’re not talking about making military rules more lax; this is about permitting gays and lesbians to serve more openly and honestly.”
Stacy called Chambliss’ fears “silly.”
“We’re not going to end up with General Pace sporting a full body tattoo and drinking mai tais on the Afghan border,” he said, referring to retired Gen. Peter Pace, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who once said he personally thought homosexuality was “immoral.”
Democratic U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson of Lithonia, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, said he sharply disagrees with the senior senator from Georgia.
Johnson said it’s time to drop what he called a “discriminatory” policy. Putting up any barriers to gays, he said, could limit the availability of expertise, and that could ultimately hurt the country.
“We need everybody we can get in this volunteer service,” Johnson said.
For his part, Chambliss said Thursday that he isn’t surprised by the controversy surrounding his remarks.
“It’s a controversial issue, it has been a controversial issue, and I’m sure it will remain controversial as long as it is in place – and even when it’s out of place,” he said.