by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Staff Writer
On May 27, the House and the Senate Armed Services Committee voted to begin the process to eventually strike down the military's ban on openly Gay service. On what has become known as a historic day for LGBT equality, Thursday afternoon saw the Senate Armed Services Committee vote 16 to 12 to repeal 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' (DADT), and the House followed suit on Thursday night with a vote of 234 to 194.
In both cases, the initiative to end the ban was attached to a $760 billion defense spending bill.
The measure wouldn't lift the ban immediately. Instead, it would wait until the Pentagon finishes an internal study later this year - and even then, the prohibition would disappear only after senior Pentagon leadership certified that it wouldn't affect military readiness.
"The vote in the Senate Committee and on the House floor to repeal 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' constitutes one of the most important advances in our fight against prejudice based on sexual orientation," said Rep. Barney Frank, one of the amendment's biggest supporters. "A very few years from now, it will be clear that the fears expressed by our opponents' arguments were totally without foundation."
President Obama, who pledged to end DADT in 2010, said, "I have long advocated that we repeal 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' and I am pleased that both the House of Representatives and the Senate Armed Services Committee took important bipartisan steps toward repeal tonight. Key to successful repeal will be the ongoing Defense Department review, and as such I am grateful that the amendments offered by Representative Patrick Murphy and Senators Joseph Lieberman and Carl Levin that passed today will ensure that the Department of Defense can complete that comprehensive review that will allow our military and their families the opportunity to inform and shape the implementation process. Our military is made up of the best and bravest men and women in our nation, and my greatest honor is leading them as commander in chief. This legislation will help make our Armed Forces even stronger and more inclusive by allowing Gay and Lesbian soldiers to serve honestly and with integrity."
"After years of fighting to end this law, these two votes are a thrilling step forward - not just for Lesbian and Gay servicemembers, but for each and every American that believes in equality," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. "The importance of this vote cannot be overstated - this is the beginning of the end. The stars are aligning to finally restore honor and integrity to those who serve our country so selflessly."
Vice Chair of the House LGBT Caucus Rep. Anthony Weiner said, "Today's vote is a major step toward the eventual dismantling of the military's 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy. For the sake of our security, it is imperative that our military be equipped with the most talented, willing, and capable men and women that this country has to offer - regardless of their sexual orientation."
The Gay military ban known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" requires the Defense Department to separate from the armed services members who engage in or attempt to engage in homosexual acts, state they are homosexual or Bisexual, or marry or attempt to marry a person of the same biological sex. Nearly 14,000 otherwise qualified men and women have been discharged from the military under DADT, and many thousands more have chosen to not re-enlist because of the policy. Enforcing and implementing the policy has cost U.S. taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
On May 25, President Obama signed on to a DADT compromise between lawmakers and the Defense Department that is likely to clear the way for repeal of the 17-year-old ban. Under the compromise, worked out in a series of meetings May 24 at the White House and on Capitol Hill, lawmakers will proceed to repeal the Clinton-era policy.
In a letter to lawmakers pushing for repeal, the White House wrote that "such an approach recognizes the critical need to allow our military and their families the full opportunity to inform and shape the implementation process through a thorough understanding of their concerns, insights and suggestions."
Following the president's announcement of a DADT compromise between lawmakers and the White House, Defense Secretary Robert Gates gave lukewarm support.
Gates "continues to believe that, ideally, the DOD review should be completed before there is any legislation" changing the law, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said.
Gates "can accept the language in the proposed amendment," Morrell added.
Gay rights advocates hailed the White House decision as a dramatic breakthrough that would eventually dismantle the policy once and for all.
Both Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, certify that a DADT repeal won't hurt the military's ability to fight.
During debate on the House floor on May 26, Rep. Jared Polis, an openly Gay Democrat from Colorado, said most Americans "recognize that on the battlefield, it doesn't matter if a soldier is Lesbian, Gay, or straight. What matters is they get the job done for our country."
"We need to get this done, and we need to get it done now," said Rep. Patrick Murphy, a Pennsylvania Democrat who served in the Iraq war and who is chief sponsor of the amendment.
As the fight moves to the full Senate (sometime this summer), final victory is no sure thing. Still, the historic May 27 House and Senate Armed Services Committee votes brought openly Gay service one step closer to becoming a reality.
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