Alex Walton, Kelsey Callahan, and J.P. Carroll

This Fourth of July is a special one. For the first time ever, all same-sex and interracial marriages are both recognized and protected by the federal government as a repeal of the wrongly named the Defense of Marriage Act and with the signing into law last year of the aptly titled Respect For Marriage Act. As a result of this, families across our country have been strengthened as they have been given both dignity and peace of mind thanks to these legislative actions. 

However, progress must continue to be made in defense of equality and the civil rights of all of our fellow Americans. On this Fourth of July — when we have a chance to honor those who have fought for our country’s freedoms — we must stand up for our veterans and Congress must pass the Restore Honor to Service Members Act.

This legislation would help to right the wrongs of “Don’t ask, don’t tell“, a policy that prohibited service members from being open about their sexual orientation. As a result of “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” early estimates showed 14,000 service members were discharged between 1994 and 2011 because of who they loved.

These discharges as a result of these expulsions were categorized as “other than honorable,” “general” or “dishonorable,” which has made it difficult for those veterans to find employment and resulted in the denial of benefits due to less-than-honorable discharges. Since the repeal of the policy, a process was implemented that would allow those who were impacted to upgrade their discharge status, thereby receiving benefits they were rightly owed for their service to our country. 

However, this process, while well-meaning, is onerous and has not been working as intended. Only more than 1,200 of the estimated 14,000 “Don’t ask, don’t tell” discharges have had their status upgraded — this is less than 10 percent over the course of 12 years. This is unacceptable, disgraceful and an insult to our nation’s veterans.

The purpose of the Restore Honor to Service Members Act is to make the upgrade process for veterans much easier, resulting in many more veterans receiving the benefits they are entitled to. This bill is objectively good and should have strong bipartisan support, as our veterans earned these benefits, in defense of us all. 

This year marks the 30th anniversary of “Don’t ask don’t tell.” Sadly, decades later, our country’s veterans are still being denied benefits based on discriminatory legislation, despite its repeal years ago. 

Next Fourth of July, we hope to celebrate the Restore Honor to Service Members Act having been signed into law, just as this year we are celebrating the repeal of the Defense Of Marriage Act and the passage of the Respect For Marriage Act.

Earlier this month, Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) introduced the Global Respect Act in the U.S. Senate, which would sanction those who perpetrate human rights abuses against members of the LGBTQ community. If our country’s leaders are serious about the United States standing up for human rights around the world — a noble goal — they must also be sure to defend those same rights here at home. The Restore Honor to Service Members Act is one such way of defending human rights in the United States and showing the world that we recognize when we have made mistakes in our past, and are committed to working toward righting those wrongs, for a better future for all. 

No doubt politics will gain more attention than policy issues given the coming election year. Importantly though, amid the noise of the upcoming elections, this substantive policy matter should be dealt with in a responsible manner. Our nation’s veterans deserve this and furthermore, this legislation is long overdue. Ultimately, decency must win the day in defense of the dignity of our nation’s heroes.

Alex Walton is the national political director of Log Cabin Republicans @applevalleyalex, Kelsey Callahan is the senior director of special projects at the Joseph Rainey Center for Public Policy @Kelsetta, and J.P. Carroll is a senior fellow for national security and inclusive governance with the Joseph Rainey Center for Public Policy @JPCarrollDC1.