In a historic vote that spells an eventual end for the 17-year-old policy, the Senate advanced a standalone bill to repeal “don’t ask don’t tell” on Saturday.
Shortly before 11 a.m. Dallas time, the Senate voted 63-33 to cut off debate on the DADT repeal bill and move to a final vote, which was scheduled for 2 p.m. Dallas time today.
Texas Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison both voted against advancing DADT repeal this morning. Six Republicans joined 45 Democrats and two Indpendents in voting to advance the measure. The six Republicans were Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Mark Kirk of Illinois and George Voinovich of Ohio.
“This vote represents an historic step forward for this country, and it will very likely be a life-changing moment for gay and lesbian troops,” said Alexander Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United and a former multi-lingual Army interrogator who was discharged under DADT. “While we still have a long road ahead, including a final passage vote, the certification process, and a yet-to-be-determined implementation period, those who defend our freedom while living in fear for their careers will finally breathe a sigh of relief tonight, and those who have fallen victim to this policy in years past will finally begin to see true closure and redemption on the horizon.”
More than 13,500 servicemembers have been discharged since DADT became law in 1993. An end to the policy would mean that for the first time in this history of the U.S., gays, lesbians and bisexuals can serve openly in the military.
In the wake of the Senate vote, another repeal advocacy group, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, called on Defense Secretary Robert Gates to immediately suspend all investigations and discharges under DADT.
Under the bill advanced by the Senate this morning, DADT won’t be repealed until 60 days after Gates, President Barack Obama and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff all certify that it won’t harm the military’s readiness.
“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,” said SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis. “Even with this historic vote, service members must continue to serve in silence until repeal is final. Certification and the 60-day Congressional requirement must be wrapped up no later than the first quarter of 2011. The bottom line: for now, gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members must remain cautiously closeted.
“We owe a great deal of thanks to many Congressional leaders who got us here today — Patrick Murphy, Susan Davis, Speaker Pelosi, and House Majority Leader Hoyer,” Sarvis continued. “In the Senate this would not have happened without Chairman Levin and Senators Lieberman, Mark Udall, Gillibrand, Collins and so many others. But let me also personally thank Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. This is the defining civil right initiative of this decade and today’s bill passage would not have been possible without Harry Reid’s determined leadership. And finally, without commitment and a clear plan from the White House for the Pentagon’s Comprehensive Review Working Group, we would not stand here today. I have no doubt the February testimony of Sec. Gates and Admiral Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, would not have happened without the President.”
The Human Rights Campaign also issued a statement:
“Today, America lived up to its highest ideals of freedom and equality. Congress recognized that all men and women have the right to openly serve their country,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “Plenty of people had already planned the funeral for this legislation. Today, we pulled out a victory from what was almost certain defeat just a few days ago. We are grateful to President Obama, Majority Leader Reid and Sens. Lieberman, Collins and countless others for their dogged determination to repeal DADT.
“This has been a long fought battle, but this failed and discriminatory law will now be history,” added Solmonese. “Congress now joins the majority of our troops and the American public in the common sense belief that on the battlefield, it does not matter whether a service member is lesbian, gay or straight — what matters is that a service member gets the job done. The President can now fulfill his promise and sign this repeal legislation into law. After signing this legislation, we call on the President and Secretary of Defense to act expeditiously to complete the steps necessary to implement final repeal.”