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Biden issues pardon to troops expelled from the military for their sexuality

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

President Biden is pardoning thousands of American veterans.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Yes, the pardons affect LGBTQ+ veterans who had been criminally charged and removed from service because of their sexual orientation. In a statement, President Biden said he was, quote, "righting an historic wrong by using my clemency authority to pardon many former service members who were convicted simply for being themselves."

FADEL: With me now for more on this is Anne Marshall-Chalmers, an investigative journalist at The Warhorse, a nonprofit newsroom that covers the military. Thanks for being here. Good morning.

ANNE MARSHALL-CHALMERS: Thank you. Good morning.

FADEL: So I want to start with the why now. It's been over a decade since part of a federal law known as Don't Ask, Don't Tell - which made it a crime to be openly LGBTQ in the military - that was repealed. Why is Biden taking this step now?

MARSHALL-CHALMERS: Yeah, I think that's a question on a lot of people's minds, because as you said, you know, this sort of - the latest anti-LGBTQ policy that was within military, Don't Ask, Don't Tell, was repealed long ago. Administration officials would only say that this is something he's been thinking about for a very long time. It is Pride Month, so that could have been, you know, something that spurred his decision to do this. But it's still a little unclear as to why now.

FADEL: And for people who might not remember, just remind us what exactly changed in federal law in 2013.

MARSHALL-CHALMERS: Right. So prior to that, there - in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, there was this one article in there called Article 125 that outlawed sodomy or, quote, "unnatural copulation," even in consensual relationships. And in 2013 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, that language around consensual same-sex relationships was taken out. But before that, you know, for 60 years...

FADEL: Yeah.

MARSHALL-CHALMERS: ...Even in same-sex relationships, if someone was discovered as gay, that could lead to convictions, even prison time, and a lifetime being blocked from veterans' benefits.

FADEL: Now, you've spoken to gay veterans who were hurt by this law. When they heard this announcement, what did they think?

MARSHALL-CHALMERS: You know, initially, there's an excitement, right? I mean, this is a historic move. This is something that acknowledges, you know, a very painful discriminatory past...

FADEL: Yeah.

MARSHALL-CHALMERS: ...Within the military. At the same time, you know, it should be noted that this pardon is pretty narrow. It only applies to veterans who were convicted under that Article 125. I've looked through court martial cases going back to the 1950s and a lot of times, veterans who were discovered in a same-sex relationship were charged under things like lewd and lascivious acts or indecent acts, and that pardon doesn't apply to them. Those folks will have to actually apply for a pardon through the Department of Justice in an individual manner. So this sort of blanket clemency does not apply for them.

FADEL: And really quickly, what has the military said about the clemency announcement or how has it responded?

MARSHALL-CHALMERS: Yeah, you know, they haven't really provided any sort of comment. They did point reporters to a newly created website as of yesterday that has all sorts of resources for veterans interested in a pardon and how to go about that. And so that is the most that they've said about this.

FADEL: Anne Marshall-Chalmers, an investigative journalist with The Warhorse. Thank you so much.

MARSHALL-CHALMERS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
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