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“Don’t ask, don’t tell,” the military’s ban on open gays, is headed for the dustbin of history.
The Senate voted 65-31 on Dec. 18 to authorize the policy’s repeal and sent the measure to President Barack Obama for his signature.
Eight Republicans joined all but one Democrat in voting to repeal the ban. They were Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Richard Burr of North Carolina, John Ensign of Nevada, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and George Voinovich of Ohio. Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia did not vote.
Obama plans to sign the bill quickly, but that will not end the ban. Gay servicemembers will need to stay in the closet for a few more months.
After Obama signs the measure, he and the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff must certify that the military is ready for the change and that it will not harm military readiness or effectiveness, unit cohesion, recruiting or member retention.
Then, after that, DADT repeal will take effect 60 days later. The process is expected to proceed relatively smoothly.
“No longer will patriots be forced to lie in order to serve the country they love and are willing to die for,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “This vote by the United States Senate will have extremely positive ripple effects well beyond ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ Our government has sent a powerful message that discrimination, on any level, should not be tolerated.”
Servicemembers Legal Defense Network Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis called on the Pentagon to cease DADT discharges during the months between now and when repeal is finalized.
“I respectfully ask Defense Secretary Robert Gates to use his authority to suspend all ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ investigations during this interim period,” Sarvis said. “Until the president signs the bill, until there is certification and until the 60-day congressional period is over, no one should be investigated or discharged under this discriminatory law. … Certification and the 60-day congressional requirement must be wrapped up no later than the first quarter of 2011.”
Sarvis called the repeal of the ban “the defining civil rights initiative of this decade.”
Lambda Legal Executive Director Kevin Cathcart called the 17-year fight to overturn the ban “a heroic political battle by LGBT advocates who refused to give up.”
In a statement, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said: “Once this legislation is signed into law by the president, the Department of Defense will immediately proceed with the planning necessary to carry out this change carefully and methodically, but purposefully. This effort will be led by Dr. Clifford Stanley, under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness. … The legislation provides that repeal will take effect once the president, the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify that implementation of the new policies and regulations written by the department is consistent with the standards of military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention of the armed forces. … I will approach this process deliberately and will make such certification only after careful consultation with the military service chiefs and our combatant commanders and when I am satisfied that those conditions have been met for all the Services, commands and units. It is therefore important that our men and women in uniform understand that while today’s historic vote means that this policy will change, the implementation and certification process will take an additional period of time. In the meantime, the current law and policy will remain in effect.”
Obama issued a statement that said: “Today, the Senate has taken a historic step toward ending a policy that undermines our national security while violating the very ideals that our brave men and women in uniform risk their lives to defend. By ending ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ no longer will our nation be denied the service of thousands of patriotic Americans forced to leave the military, despite years of exemplary performance, because they happen to be gay. And no longer will many thousands more be asked to live a lie in order to serve the country they love. As commander-in-chief, I am also absolutely convinced that making this change will only underscore the professionalism of our troops as the best led and best trained fighting force the world has ever known. And I join the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as the overwhelming majority of service members asked by the Pentagon, in knowing that we can responsibly transition to a new policy while ensuring our military strength and readiness. … It is time to close this chapter in our history. 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. It is time to allow gay and lesbian Americans to serve their country openly.”