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“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the 2010 Elections

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” – the 17-year-old policy that bans gays from serving openly in the military – has become a heated issue in elections in Nevada, Missouri and Florida.

The issue gained prominence in late May, when the Senate Armed Services Committee and the full House of Representatives voted to allow the Department of Defense to repeal the rule, The New York Times reported.  On Sept. 9, a federal district judge in California ruled that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” violates the First and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, according to CNN. And on Sept. 13, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the 2011 defense authorization bill, which includes a repeal of the policy, could be put to a vote in the Senate as early as the week of Sept. 20, according to Politico.

Reid, who favors repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” is in a neck-and-neck race for re-election in Nevada against Republican challenger Sharron Angle, theAssociated Press reported. The Family Research Council Political Action Committee, a conservative Christian advocacy group, has run a television adon Las Vegas cable stations criticizing Reid’s position on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and urging voters to “Stop Harry Reid on Election Day,” PR Newswirereported. The FRC has also declared the issue a “Prayer Target,” encouraging individuals to pray that the policy is not overturned.

Republican candidate Vicky Hartzler has raised “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in Missouri’s 4th congressional district race. Her Democratic opponent Ike Skelton, who has held the seat since 1977, helped author “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and voted in May against allowing its repeal. While Hartzler, like Skelton, supports keeping the policy intact, she has questioned Skelton’s leadership on the issue. After the House voted May 27 to allow repeal, she posted a statement on her Facebook page saying the bill’s passage showed that Skelton “is powerless to win important battles when needed most,” The Hill reported. In June, Skelton said his constituents have not raised the issue with him, according to The Huffington Post.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has also become a topic of debate in Florida’s Senate race. Florida governor Charlie Crist, who is running for the U.S. Senate as an independent, previously opposed repealing the policy but changed his position after the Senate Armed Services Committee’s vote in May, according to The Palm Beach Post.  Both Democratic candidate Kendrick Meek, who advocates repealing the law, and Republican candidate Marco Rubio, who opposes the repeal, have said that Crist’s changing opinion on the policy marks him as untrustworthy and opportunistic. Crist attributed his change of view on this and other gay rights issues to the “wisdom” of experience, according to a Sept. 15 WSTP News report.

According to a new poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, Americans support allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military by a two-to-one margin (60% favor vs. 30% oppose). Public attitudes on this issue have been stable since 2005, previous polls show.  In the most recent poll, majorities of Democrats (67%) and independents (64%) favor allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military, while Republicans are more divided; 47% favor and 43% oppose.

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