One of the surprises of the Senate's repeal of "Don't ask, don't tell,"
the policy banning gays from serving openly in the military, was the vote of Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina. The reliably conservative Burr was one of eight Republicans who supported repeal.
In a statement after the Dec. 18 vote, Burr made clear his doubts about the timing of the change because "making such a shift in policy at a time when we have troops deployed in active combat areas does not take into consideration the seriousness of the situation on the ground." He nevertheless concluded that "given the generational transition that has taken place in our nation, I feel that this policy is outdated and repeal is inevitable." It was, the statement said, "the right thing to do."
What is not surprising is the reaction of some members of his party in his home state, particularly Mecklenburg County Commissioner Bill James. After commission chair Jennifer Roberts, a Democrat, this week suggested sending a letter from the commission thanking Burr and other local members of Congress for backing repeal, James expressed his disapproval in an e-mail that said, "Homosexuals are sexual predators."
In a column Wednesday, my Politics Daily colleague Matt Lewis
asked, "Will 'Gay' Issue Create a Conservative Schism?" -- and the answer may be yes. James said he will no longer support Burr and said he suspects the senator will pay a price for the DADT vote in his next election. (Burr, who was easily re-elected
in his November race against Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, won't face voters again until 2016.)
James' Monday e-mail to Roberts (he posted a link on his Facebook page) said in part: "Allowing homosexuals to serve in the US military with the endorsement of the Mecklenburg County Commission ignores a host of serious problems related to maintaining US military readiness and effectiveness, not the least of which is the current Democrat plan to allow homosexuals (male and female) to share showers with those they are attracted to."
Though other county commissioners said that sending a letter on behalf of the entire board was not appropriate, James' language -- especially in the context of his past statements -- has been strongly criticized. (Republicans Karen Bentley and Jim Pendergraph also said they disagreed with the repeal; Democrat Harold Cogdell said commissioners could send personal notes but should not speak on behalf of the board.)
One year ago
, when the board voted to approve domestic-partner benefits for county workers and an emotional Commissioner Vilma Leake, a Democrat, mentioned her son and his 1993 death from AIDS, James asked: "Your son was a homo, really?"
(the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) has posted a petition urging the commission to censure James. "It's inexcusable to call your colleague's deceased son an anti-gay slur," says a statement on the group's website. "It's even more inexcusable to willfully spread misinformation about the lives of all
LGBT people and claim that open military service will do anything but strengthen our national security by allowing all of the best and brightest to serve, regardless of who they are."