Bernie Sanders stood up for gay soldiers — 16 years before "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ended
Presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders has been ahead of his time on many issues — but that's particularly true for gay rights, which he's been fairly liberal on for decades.
One moment that captured Sanders's progressivism came back in 1995, showcased in the video above. On the floor of the House of Representatives, Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-CA) criticized the idea of what he called "homos in the military."
Then Sanders, a US House representative at the time, blasted him. "Was the gentleman referring to the many thousands and thousands of gay people who have put their lives on the line in countless wars defending this country?" Sanders asked. "You have insulted thousands of men and women who have put their lives on the line."
This wasn't the public norm at the time. In 1996, nearly half of Americans said consensual homosexual relationships should be illegal, according to Gallup. And even though "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" — signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993 — eased the ban on gay people in the military, it didn't allow gay soldiers to serve openly. (That happened in 2011 after President Barack Obama repealed DADT.)
But standing out on gay rights wasn't unusual for Sanders. He was one of only 67 (out of 409) House members to vote against the federal Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, which prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. (It wasn't until 2013 that the US Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the law.)
And in a 1972 letter to a local newspaper in Vermont, Sanders called for abolishing all laws that deal with sexual behavior, including homosexuality, that were used to punish people for consensual gay relationships. That change didn't happen until Lawrence v. Texas in 2003, when the US Supreme Court concluded that anti-sodomy laws were unconstitutional, effectively legalizing consensual gay sex across the country.
It's easy to take all this progress for granted now that same-sex marriage is legal and anti-sodomy laws seem practically prehistoric, but Sanders really was a standout voice for gay rights for years. And with LGBTQ issues constantly in the news nowadays, that helps explain why so many progressives are rallying around him.