Interview with Marty Meehan
U.S. House Representative, 5th District, MA.
by Denny Meyer, Gay
On March 2, 2005,
Congressman Marty Meehan Introduced HR 1059, the
Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2005. The
bill would replace "Don't Ask, Don't Tell,"
the military's current policy prohibiting openly gay
soldiers from serving, with a policy prohibiting
discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.*
Congressman Meehan has been an outspoken advocate of
equal and fair treatment for gay men and lesbians. The
Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2005 is not the
Congressman's first attempt to repeal Don't Ask, Don't
Tell. In fact, the first amendment Meehan offered
as a Congressman was to delete Don't Ask, Don't Tell
provisions from the Fiscal Year 1994 Defense
Gay Military Signal
interviewed Marty Meehan on July 27th 2006; the
commentary below represents the gist of questions and
responses in our discussion.
Times: Thank you Congressman Meehan for your
courage in introducing the Military Readiness
Enhancement Act so that patriotic openly
Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Americans may
volunteer to serve our country.
Marty Meehan: The First amendment I introduced
was in 1994 to lift ban on gays in military, in
an appropriations bill, shortly after the Don't
Ask Don't Tell law was implemented.
GMS: We very much appreciate the uphill
battle you have taken on to end discrimination.
MM: Thinking back to 1994, we got 143
votes in favor of lifting the ban. Democrats were in
power at that time, of course. My amendment got
headlines in local papers in my district, some
rather negative. I didn't care; it was the right
thing to do. Now public opinion has shifted. At
that time only 44 percent were in favor of
allowing gays in the military. Now 63 percent
are in favor, and only 32 percent are opposed.
GMS: (since you are neither a veteran nor
gay) how did you get involved in this issue?
MM I was appointed, as
a freshman, to The Armed
Services Committee. I felt strongly about gay
and lesbian rights; so I was the appropriate
person; in fact, I had run opposing the ban;
and offered the amendment to void the provisions
of Don't Ask Don't
At this point, Congressman Meehan recounted
that it was he who had initiated the request for
the General Accounting Office to evaluate the
cost impact of the Don't Ask Don't Tell law,
resulting in the GAO reporting that some 190
million dollars had been spent simply to replace
those discharged by enforcing the DADT policy in
the first ten years under the law. He saw the
numbers indicating that those who had been
discharged ,under DADT, represented a third of
the military's readiness requirements,
particularly in specialized skills. More
recently, Congressman Meehan joined the Blue Ribbon
Commission of the Center For the Study of
Sexual Minorities in the Military (CSSMM) at the
University of California, Santa Barbara in releasing the
findings of a study they conducted subsequent to the
GAO's investigation. The study determined an even
higher cost of 363 million resulting from the policy.
"The evidence is overwhelming," he said,
"if every gay
servicemember left (at once) we'd be in worse shape
for military readiness" than the already
armed forces are today.
GMS: Why did you feel so strongly about this issue to
take it up and introduce the Military Readiness
MM: I got involved in the issue in 1993 when it was
not a popular position with constituents. I felt that
it was important to not keep qualified people from
serving. I met with many who had left so as not to
live a lie; it is wrong to ask people to live (such a)
lie. Our armed forces are serving with gay and lesbian
British servicemembers in Iraq. Nearly 60% of all
coalition forces serving in Iraq are from countries that
people to serve openly in their armed forces, including
Australia, Italy, and Israel; there is overwhelming
evidence that there is no (adverse) effect on unit
morale. It angers me that we haven't changed.
GMS: What are you doing now and what have you
been doing to get further co-sponsors of the
MM: We have 118 co-sponsors (I noted that I
believed the current figure was 119; he was so
modest that he'd failed to include himself),
counting me there are 119. We are trying to get
more Republicans to have the courage to sign on.
Most know that it is the right thing to do; most
congressmen know that it is the right policy;
but they are afraid of backlash from
constituents. We are working to convince them of
the positive dividends of doing the right thing.
The introduction of the Bill has moved pubic
opinion to be more in favor than opposed to gay
people serving openly in our armed forces.
GMS: What would you like to see activist
advocates of the Bill do to promote its passage?
MM: Argue the merits of the case. Point out
the negative impact of DADT on the security of
the United States. The 911 Commission says that
we need qualified linguists, particularly of
Arabic, among other strategic skills. We need to
let all those with skills, courage, and
patriotism to be able to serve. For the sake of
our national security we have to have the best
GMS: Could you talk about interactions with
Senators regarding the Bill's introduction in
MM: I have spoken with individual senators,
including Senator Kennedy; but right now we are
trying to increase the number of co-sponsors,
though the influence of public opinion, by
constantly raising the issue. We need to keep at
it. I have hopes that the mid term elections
will create an environment in which the Bill can
get a hearing and a vote for passage.
GMS: What about partner benefits? The Bill
contains a seemingly proforma and innocuous
section that briefly states that it does not
require providing dependent benefits in
violation of provisions in the Defense of
Marriage Act. Presumably this was included to
separate the issues and avoid opposition?
MM: I support gay marriage. It would not cost
any more than current benefits given to others.
The idea was, in fact, to separate the issues.
GMS: Would you consider reviewing that
section and possibly simply omitting it when the
Bill is resubmitted in the next session of
MM: Absolutely, I will review this. I agree with what you said, I
think that those groups involved in the movement
felt that we did not want to give groups opposed
to gay marriage rights an excuse to oppose the
Bill if it were seen as conflicting with DOMA.
If we could lift the ban, giving the same
benefits as other get would be an easier matter.
It is not realistic to think there could be
passage of the Bill in this session of Congress.
But we have made enormous progress. Hopefully
after the midterm elections, in the next
session, we can move forward.
Meehan was first elected to the US House of
Representatives in 1992. Born in Lowell, MA, he
is oldest son in a family of seven children, he
grew up in a working class neighborhood and
attended Lowell public schools. He received a BA
degree at the University of Massachusetts at
earned a law degree as well as a Masters in
Public Administration at Suffolk University of
Boston. Congressman Meehan and his wife, Ellen,
a Vice President at Lawrence General Hospital,
are the proud parents of two sons.*
first two and last paragraphs, on Congressman Meehan's
background, are derived, respectively, from his