From the end of World War II to just two years ago, homosexual military servicemen and servicewomen were dishonorably discharged if their sexual orientation happened to become public knowledge. It created an atmosphere of fear, tension, and oppression for many of the people who served our country loyally, and several thousands of our soldiers were forced to abandon their dreams and their service because of a misplaced "moral" agenda.
Thankfully, that era ended in 2011 when President Obama repealed Don't Ask, Don't Tell. But the 114,000 soldiers dishonorably discharged under its laws have not had an effective recourse for the injustice done to them.
Two congressmen are trying to change that.
Representatives Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.) are co-sponsoring the "Restore Honor to Service Members Act." This bill will correct the service records of those dishonorably discharged solely for identifying as homosexual to reflect an honorable discharge. It will also remove an arcane anti-sodomy military law that is rarely used in military prosecutions but is still stigmatizing for gay and lesbian soldiers.
This matter is not just one of semantics. Receiving an honorable discharge versus a dishonorable or general discharge has a significant impact on what services soldiers are entitled to after leaving the military. Some of these laws vary by state, but Rangel and Pocan have stated that thousands of veterans are prevented from accessing unemployment benefits, the GI Bill, health care plans, disability coverage, military style funerals, or even the right to vote.
The bill will be introduced to Congress next week, and it should have around 30 co-sponsors at that point. With a hostile Republican-led House, though, some are worried that the bill won't pass. However, both Rangel and Pocan are staying optimistic, hoping to present the bill as an extension of the rights that Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal has already granted our military service members.