Rep. Heath Shuler has voted against repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military, saying he was honoring the requests of military leaders. The House approved the measure 234-194.
On May 27, Shuler joined 25 other Democrats and 168 Republican representatives in voting against repeal. Meanwhile, 229 Democrats and five Republicans voted in favor of repeal.
In a legislative update the next day, Shuler had this to say about his vote:
"There was also a vote on repealing the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy in the military. I have the utmost confidence in the ability of our military leaders to set the policies and procedures that will best serve our men and women in uniform, and our country. A Department of Defense review of the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy is under way and is expected to be completed by Dec. 1, 2010. The Joint Chiefs of Staff, [representing] the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, have urged Congress not to act until that review is completed. In my mind, this is not an unreasonable request. For me, this question is not one of access to serve but of how we can best honor the requests of our military leaders.
"I wish all our veterans, service members and their families a happy and meaningful Memorial Day. You have my utmost respect and gratitude always."
During a February Senate hearing, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he personally supported repealing the ban. But Mullen has also said he would prefer that legislators wait until the study is completed to take action.
The Senate Armed Services Committee also approved the repeal bill on May 27, though the full Senate isn't expected to vote on it till sometime this summer.
Meanwhile, the House version of the bill gives the Pentagon until the end of this year to complete its study; the repeal would take effect Jan. 1, 2011.
This isn't the first time Shuler has bucked his party. Most controversially, he voted against health-care reform legislation earlier this year. More recently, he handily won a primary against challenger Aixa Wilson, who made a surprisingly strong showing for a political newcomer, collecting nearly 40 percent of the vote and narrowly winning Buncombe County.
Shuler will face Republican Jeff Miller in November.
David Forbes can be reached at email@example.com or at 251-1333, ext. 137.