Utah Democratic Representative Jim Matheson cast Utah’s only vote to repeal a Clinton-era policy banning gays and lesbians from serving openly in the U.S. military on May 28.
“Anyone who is willing to put on this country’s uniform and put his or her life on the line to protect our freedoms deserves our respect and should not be subject to discrimination,” the Deseret News quoted Matheson, who represents Utah’s Congressional District 2, as sayingat the time. “Repealing this flawed policy is an important way for us to show that respect.”
These comments echo remarks made by Matheson at the State Democratic Convention held earlier in the month. There, Matheson addressed the Stonewall Utah Democrats, the state’s gay-friendly and largest caucus, about a number of gay and transgender rights issues, including don’t ask, don’t tell, hate crimes legislation and the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, which would prohibit job discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity at the federal level.
In 2009, Matheson voted to expand federal hate crimes legislation to cover gay and transgender people and people with disabilities. He also voted in favor of ENDA. However, he has not voted for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, which gives states the authority not to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.
Matheson’s vote against don’t ask, don’t tell also comes during an election year, and one where he is facing a primary election for the first time in his 10 year term. The fact that he is fighting for his job makes his vote suspicious, said Democratic challenger Claudia Wright.
“Claudia firmly believes that her presence in this race is forcing Matheson to vote [in favor of] these issues,” said Michael Picardi, Wright’s campaign manager.
He also added that this was the first year Matheson attended the Utah Pride Festival’s Grand Marshal Reception, which was held June 4.
Local political analysts have also noted the effects of the primary on Matheson’s votes.
“The significance of this vote for Claudia Wright is that Democrats will look at it as Matheson will vote for us at least some of the time. If a Republican beats his challenger, we may never get one of these votes,” added Kirk Jowers, Director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics, in an interview with Channel 5 News.
The vote to end don’t ask, don’t tell passed both houses of Congress by wide margins and was part of the 2011 Defense Authorization Bill. It does not, however, lift the ban on openly gay servicemembers outright. Rather, the vote gives the Defense Department the power to end the policy pending a report on the effects it has had on the military and on whether or not lifting it during wartime would have a negative impact.
Utah’s two Republican Senators and its two Republican Congressmen voted against lifting the ban, variously citing the military’s overall satisfaction with the policy, the difficulty of changing policy during a two-front war, and an eagerness to wait for the report’s conclusions before acting.