Hillary Clinton proposed on Saturday that the military records of gays, lesbians, and transgenders who were kicked out of the military be amended to show they received honorable discharges.
This is a major bone tossed to one of the most important Democratic Party constituencies — an indication that Clinton believes her support of gay rights gives her a leg up on her challengers for the nomination.
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is over, but that doesn’t change the fact that more than 14,000 men and women were forced out of the military for being gay, some long before Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell even existed,” Clinton said, referring to the 1993 law that allowed gays and lesbians to serve in the military if they did not reveal their sexual orientation.
“They were given less than honorable discharges,” Hillary Clinton said. “I can’t think of a better way to thank those men and women for their service than by upgrading their service records.”
Addressing the influential gay rights organization Human Rights Campaign, Clinton thanked gay rights activists for their strong support over her political career and was frank about her own change of heart about gay marriage.
“You helped changed a lot of minds, including mine,” Clinton said to applause. “I personally am very grateful for that.”
Politically active gay and lesbian people are an important constituency for Democrats, in no small measure because of strong financial support for Democratic candidates. Clinton has held several lucrative fundraising parties at the homes of gay supporters this year.
She pledged Saturday to build on the Supreme Court ruling guaranteeing marriage equality, and got in a few digs at Republicans for opposing the expansion of gay rights and legal protections.
“I see the injustices and the dangers you and your families still face, and I am running for president to end them once and for all,” she said to cheers and chants of “Hill-a-ry, Hill-a-ry.”
Someone better versed in military history might be able to come up with a similar case, but I’ve never heard of such retroactive relief for personnel who were clearly in violation of the military code at the time of their discharge. I’m sure there have been individual cases over the years where, after appeal, the status of a discharge was reversed, but an entire class of people?
How far back would the retroactive relief be effective? And what of gay soldiers and sailors who may have committed other transgressions? Rather than issuing blanket honorable discharges, perhaps a process could be created for individual reviews based on the new rules in the code of conduct. That would be fairer to those serving today.