A proposal to begin the process of repealing “don’t ask don’t tell” cleared a major hurdle late Thursday when the Senate Armed Services Committee approved the measure by a vote of 16-12.

Meanwhile, lawmakers continued to debate the proposal on the House floor. Sources said they expected a vote in the House between 7 and 8 p.m. Dallas time. Earlier in the day Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters, “I think the votes are there.”

In addition to the House, the measure still needed to pass the Senate floor, where some Republicans have threatened a filibuster. In both the Senate and the House, the proposal to end the ban is attached to a $760 billion defense spending bill.

“This initial victory today in the Senate Armed Services Committee is an historic first step forward in the drive to finally get the onerous ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ law off the books forever,” said Alexander Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United. “All of us who have served under ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ and who have been impacted by this law will remember this day as the beginning of the end for ‘don’t ask don’t tell.'”

Under the proposal, supported by President Barack Obama, the DADT repeal wouldn’t take effect until the Pentagon completes a study on the impact, expected in December. Also, 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 these requirements are met, there would be a 60-day waiting period before the repeal takes effect.

“We are especially grateful to the courageous members on the Senate Armed Services Committee who took a principled stand and voted for this amendment, which fully respects the ongoing study, the Pentagon leadership, and the men and women of the U.S. military,” Nicholson said.

The Human Rights Campaign said in a statement that the Senate committee decision marked the first time Congress has taken a vote toward repealing DADT in the policy’s 17-year history.

“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,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “The stars are aligning to finally restore honor and integrity to those who serve our country so selflessly.”

The Senate committee vote broke along party lines, with two exceptions. Sen. Susan Collins 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.

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