Opponents to equality in the military have begun to try and derail any attempt by pro-equality groups to make advances in the rights of LGB people and women in the military. To begin with, soon to be outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has objected to an amendment in the Defense Authorization Act for 2013 that would help survivors of sexual assault. Meanwhile, Republicans are trying to undermine the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell by pushing through so-called conscience provisions into military regulations.
Secretary Panetta wrote to Representative Buck McKeon, the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, to urge the conference committee to reject a provision that would require that the military retain records of all sexual assault reports for 50 years. According to Panetta, the provision would “affect the Department’s ability to operate efficiently and effectively.”
The amendment was introduced to the bill by Senators Amy Klobuchar and Olympia Snowe, and it would benefit victims of sexual assault wo file anonymous or restricted reports. These reports and all evidence involved would be kept for fifty years. Currently, those reports are only kept for five years. The amendment would bring the keeping of the anonymous reports into line with the keeping of the non-anonymous reports, which are kept for fifty years.
Former Marine Captain Anu Bhagwati, the Executive Director of Service Women’s Action Network, stated “Objecting to this amendment makes no sense. Sexual assault survivors need documentation of their in-service sexual assault for their medical and mental health treatment and so they can file VA claims once they are out of the military. Under the previous policy, the military destroyed these records after 2 -5 years, effectively wiping out any proof that a sexual assault had ever happened.”
She also stated that “Whether the report is restricted or unrestricted doesn’t matter. The nature of the report does not determine the survivor’s need for the documentation. It should in no way determine whether a report is kept for five years or five decades.”
Meanwhile, Republicans in the House are trying to allow military personnel to actively harass and discriminate against lesbian, gay and bisexual members of the military. Under the language of Section 536 as written by Republican Representative Todd Akin, the US military would have to “accommodate the conscience and sincerely held moral principles and religious beliefs of the members of the Armed Forces concerning the appropriate and inappropriate expression of human sexuality.” The language would also prohibit the military from using these beliefs as the basis for any punishment and would prevent the military from disciplining any chaplain who refuses to serve a member of the military based on their religious beliefs.