by Mark Silva
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- It turns out that the retired brigadier general who is "an openly gay man'' and who stood here last night to press the Republican candidates for president about their policies toward gays and lesbians in the military - and who declared that he wasn't satisfied with the answers -- also has served the campaign of Democrat Hillary Clinton.
" Following the debate, CNN learned that retired Brigadier Gen. Keith Kerr served on Clinton's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender steering committee,'' the sponsors of the debate here said in a statement issued today. David Bohman, senior vice president and executive producer of the debate, added: "We regret this incident. CNN would not have used the general's question had we known that he was connected to any presidential candidate."
The sponsors had verified Kerr's military service and found that he had not contributed money to any of the presidential candidates. And Kerr, who said he has done no work for the Clinton campaign, said he is a member of the Log Cabin Republicans and was representing no one other than himself. Kerr said in an interview here this morning that he had allowed his name to be used on Clinton committees because she "is such a strong advocate'' for gay rights.
Yet the old general's question was germane to this presidential debate, and one of the candidates had some trouble with it.
Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, said he had opposed former President Bill Clinton's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell'' policy toward gays serving in the military, but some 15 years later, he said, it appears to him that the policy is working. Yet he could not answer a question about his once-stated hope that homosexuals might openly serve some day.
Romney and Sen. John McCain agreed on one thing, however: The current military policy of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'' -- a product of the Clinton administration -- appears to be working.
"My name's Keith Kerr, from Santa Rosa, California. I'm a retired brigadier general with 43 years of service,'' Kerr told the candidates in the video that he submitted to the YouTube debate. "I'm a graduate of the Special Forces Officer Course, the Commanding General Staff Course and the Army War College. And I'm an openly gay man.
"I want to know why you think that American men and women in uniform are not professional enough to serve with gays and lesbians.''
Rep. Duncan Hunter of California said: "General, thanks for your service, but I believe in what Colin Powell said when he said that having openly homosexual people serving in the ranks would be bad for unit cohesion.
"The reason for that, even though people point to the Israelis and point to the Brits and point to other people as having homosexuals serve, is that most Americans, most kids who leave that breakfast table and go out and serve in the military and make that corporate decision with their family, most of them are conservatives,'' Hunter said.
"They have conservative values, and they have Judeo-Christian values. To force those people to work in a small tight unit with somebody who is openly homosexual goes against what they believe to be their principles, and it is their principles, is I think a disservice to them. I agree with Colin Powell that it would be bad for unit cohesion.''
Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas: "The Uniform Code of Military Justice is probably the best rule, and it has to do with conduct. People have a right to have whatever feelings, whatever attitudes they wish, but when their conduct could put at risk the morale, or put at risk even the cohesion that Duncan Hunter spoke of, I think that's what is at issue. And
that's why our policy is what it is.
Romney was reminded by moderator Anderson Cooper that, in 1994, he had said he looked forward to the forward to the day when gays and lesbians could serve -- "and I quote, 'Openly and honestly in our nation's military." Do you stand by that?''
"This isn't that time,'' Romney said. "This is not that time. We're in the middle of a war. The people who have...
"Do you look forward to that time, though, one day?'' Cooper interjected.
"I'm going to listen to the people who run the military to see what the circumstances are like. And my view is that, at this stage, this is not the time for us to make that kind of...
"Is that a change in your position?'' Cooper asked.
"Yes, I didn't think it would work,'' Romney said. "I didn't think don't ask, don't tel would work. That was my -- I didn't think that would work. I thought that was a policy, when I heard about it, I laughed. I said that doesn't make any sense to me.... And you know what? It's been there now for, what, 15 years? It seems to have worked.''
"So, just so I'm clear, at this point, do you still look forward to a day when gays can serve openly in the military or no longer?'' Cooper asked.
"I look forward to hearing from the military exactly what they believe is the right way to have the right kind of cohesion and support in our troops and I listen to what they have to say,'' said Romney, drawing some boos from the audience here in St. Petersburg at this point.
At this point, Cooper introduced Kerr, who was in the hall.
" With all due respect, I did not get an answer from the candidates,'' Kerr said.
"American men and women in the military are professional enough to serve with gays and lesbians,'' he said. "For 42 years, I wore the army uniform on active duty, in the Reserve, and also for the state of California. I revealed I was a gay man after I retired.
"Today, "don't ask, don't tell" is destructive to our military policy,'' he said. "Every day, the Department of Defense discharges two people, not for misconduct, not for the unit cohesion... that Congressman Hunter is talking about, but simply because they happen to be gay.''
Sen. John McCain, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and prisoner of war during the Vietnam War, was asked about the issue.
"General, I thank you for your service to our nation,'' McCain said. "I respect it. All the time, I talk to our military leaders, beginning with our joint chiefs of staff and the leaders in the field, such as General Petraeus and General Odierno and others who are designated leaders with the responsibility of the safety of the men and women under their command and their security and protect them as best they can.
"Almost unanimously, they tell me that this present policy is working, that we have the best military in history, that we have the bravest, most professional, best prepared, and that this policy ought to be continued because it's working.'