John Wright | Online Editor
In a landmark victory for gay rights, the U.S. Senate gave final approval Saturday afternoon to a bill repealing the military’s 17-year-old ban on open service.
The bill, which passed the House earlier in the week, cleared the Senate by a margin of 65-31. It now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature before the process of implementing a repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” can begin.
This morning, the Senate voted 63-33 to cut off debate on DADT repeal, a defining procedural move that virtually ensured the bill’s passage this afternoon. As expected, Texas Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison both voted against advancing DADT repeal.
Six Republicans joined 45 Democrats and two Independents to provide the 60-vote supermajority needed to cut off debate. 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. No Democrats voted against advancing the bill, but Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., did not vote.
“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.
Nicholson added that while implementing DADT repeal will take some time, “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.”
Repealing the policy will mean that for the first time in this history of the U.S., gays, lesbians and bisexuals can serve openly in the military. More than 13,500 servicemembers have been discharged under DADT since it became law in 1993.
In the wake of the initial vote this morning, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network called on Defense Secretary Robert Gates to immediately suspend all investigations and discharges under DADT.
Under the bill, implementation of DADT repeal won’t begin until 60 days after Obama, Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify that eliminating the policy 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.”
The Human Rights Campaign issued this 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.”