Senate votes to overturn military gay ban
WASHINGTON (AP) - In a landmark for gay rights, the Senate on
Saturday voted to let gays serve openly in the military, giving
President Barack Obama the chance to fulfill a campaign promise and
repeal the 17-year policy known as "don't ask, don't tell."
Obama was expected to sign it next week, although the change
wouldn't take immediate effect. The legislation says the president
and his top military advisers must certify that lifting the ban
won't hurt troops' fighting ability. After that, there's a 60-day
waiting period for the military.
"It is time to close this chapter in our history," Obama said
in a statement after a test vote cleared the way for final action.
"It is time to recognize that sacrifice, valor and integrity are
no more defined by sexual orientation than they are by race or
gender, religion or creed."
The Senate vote was 65-31. The House had passed an identical
version of the bill, 250-175, on Wednesday.
Repeal would mean that, for the first time in American history,
gays would be openly accepted by the military and could acknowledge
their sexual orientation without fear of being kicked out.
More than 13,500 service members have been dismissed under the
Rounding up a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate was a
historic victory for Obama, who made repeal a campaign promise in
2008. It also was a political triumph for congressional Democrats
who struggled in the final hours of the post election session to
overcome GOP objections on several legislative priorities before
Republicans regain control of the House in January.
"As Barry Goldwater said, 'You don't have to be straight to
shoot straight,"' said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.,
referring to the late GOP senator from Arizona.
Sen. John McCain, Obama's GOP rival in 2008, led the opposition.
The Arizona Republican acknowledged he didn't have the votes to
stop the bill and he blamed elite liberals with no military
experience for pushing their social agenda on troops during
"They will do what is asked of them," McCain said of service
members. "But don't think there won't be a great cost."
In the end, six GOP senators broke with their party on the
procedural vote to let the bill move ahead and swung behind repeal
after a recent Pentagon study concluded the ban could be lifted
without hurting the ability of troops to fight. On the final vote
for passage, eight Republicans joined the majority Democrats.
Advocacy groups who lobbied hard for repeal hailed the vote as a
significant step forward in gay rights. The Service Members Legal
Defense Network called the issue the "defining civil rights
initiative of this decade."
Supporters of repeal filled the visitor seats overlooking the
Senate floor, ready to protest had the bill failed.
"This has been a long fought battle, but this failed and
discriminatory law will now be history," said Joe Solmonese,
president of the Human Rights Campaign.
The Pentagon study found that two-thirds of service members
didn't think changing the law would have much of an effect. But of
those who did predict negative consequences, a majority were
assigned to combat arms units. Nearly 60 percent of the Marine
Corps and Army combat units, such as infantry and special
operations, said in the survey they thought repealing the law would
hurt their units' ability to fight.
The Pentagon's uniformed chiefs are divided on whether this
resistance might pose serious problems.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos has said he thinks
lifting the ban during wartime could cost lives.
"I don't want to lose any Marines to the distraction," he told
reporters this week. "I don't want to have any Marines that I'm
visiting at Bethesda (Naval Medical Center) with no legs be the
result of any type of distraction."
Adm. Mike Mullen and Marine Gen. James Cartwright, the chairman
and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, respectively, have
said the fear of disruption is overblown. They note the Pentagon's
finding that 92 percent of troops who believe they have served with
a gay person saw no effect on their units' morale or effectiveness.
Among Marines in combat roles who said they have served alongside a
gay person, 84 percent said there was no impact.