At his confirmation hearing on Thursday, Retired General James Mattis — President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to be secretary of defense — refused to say whether he believes women and LGBT people should be able to serve in the military.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) noted during questioning that Mattis had previously said allowing women and men to serve together was like mixing “Eros,” and asked whether he still believes that. Mattis responded that he did not plan to make any changes unless someone brings a problem to his attention.
“I’m looking for military readiness,” he said, adding that he has “no plan to oppose women.”
Noting additional comments he had made about gay and lesbians in the military, Gillibrand then asked, “ Do you believe that openly serving homosexuals, along with women in combat units, is undermining our force?”
Again, Mattis declined to answer the question, responding that “we have to stay focused on the military that is so lethal that, on the battlefield, it is the enemy’s longest day and worst day when they run into that force.”
Gillibrand gave Mattis several more opportunities to say whether LGBT servicemembers and women are undermining that lethality, but he did not provide a direct answer.
Later in the hearing, Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) asked Mattis whether there is “something innate in being a woman or the LGBT that would cause you to believe that they could not be part of the lethal force.” He responded that there is not.
Mattis was reportedly considered by the Obama administration for the position of marine commandant in 2010, but was passed over in favor of another candidate who was more supportive of efforts to repeal the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy that barred open military service by gay and lesbians.
While Congress repealed the law requiring that openly gay and lesbian servicemembers be discharged, the Department of Defense could theoretically reinstate such a policy at any time. The same goes for the recently lifted ban on transgender people serving openly.
On Wednesday, Trump Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson refused to say whether he believes “gay rights are human rights.” Trump promised in his 2016 campaign to protect LGBT people from ISIS, but has not indicated that he will do anything to protect them from discrimination.
This post has been updated to reflect that Mattis was discussing “Eros,” not “arrows.”