A proposal that would begin the process of repealing “don’t ask don’t tell” cleared two key legislative hurdles late Thursday, with both the Senate Armed Services Committee and the full House of Representatives approving the measure in two votes that came just a few hours apart.
The proposal, in the form of an amendment to a $760 billion defense spending bill for Fiscal Year 2011, still must pass the full Senate, where some Republicans have threatened a filibuster.
Under the plan, supported by President Barack Obama, a DADT repeal wouldn’t take effect until the Pentagon completes a study on its impact, expected in December. Then, the president, the defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff would have to certify that the repeal won’t hurt the military’s ability to fight. Finally, after those two requirements are met, there would be a 60-day waiting period.
“The importance of this vote cannot be overstated — this is the beginning of the end of a shameful ban on open service by lesbian and gay troops that has weakened our national security,” Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said in a statement following the Senate committee vote. “The stars are aligning to finally restore honor and integrity to those who serve our country so selflessly.”
Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, called the proposal “a historic roadmap” but noted that it won’t immediately end discharges.
“It is important for all gay and lesbian, active-duty service members, including the Reserves and the National Guard, to know they’re at risk,” Sarvis said.
Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, noted that polls show 78 percent of Americans support a repeal of DADT.
“We call for a prompt vote by the full Senate that will get us even closer to permitting lesbian, gay and bisexual service members to serve openly and honestly,” Carey said. ”While this is progress toward ending an unjust law, we continue to call for clear assurances of protection, a specific timeline for repeal implementation, and an immediate halt to the discharges.”
The Senate Armed Services Committee, meeting behind closed doors, approved the measure by a vote of 16-12 at about 5:30 p.m. Dallas time. The committee vote broke along party lines, with two exceptions. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine was the lone Republican to vote in favor of the amendment. Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia was the only Democrat to vote against it.
The House voted 234-194 to approve the amendment shortly after 9 p.m.
Among those who spoke against the amendment on the House floor was Republican Congressman Pete Sessions of Dallas.
“I think it’s a slap in the face to the members of the military to be driven down a road that is driven by a political agenda from the left in this country rather than a wise policy,” Sessions said.
DADT was passed in 1993 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1994. According to SLDN, the policy has resulted in the abrupt firing of more than 14,000 men and women because of their sexual orientation, and has led tens of thousands more to voluntarily terminate their careers.
There are an estimated 66,000 gays, lesbians, and bisexuals currently serving in the U.S. military and an estimated 1 million gay, lesbian, and bisexual veterans of the U.S. armed forces.