An Historic Moment in Civil Rights

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What a contrast to the insane Ugandan homophobic legislation posted earlier.

House Votes to Allow Repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Law

By David M. Herszenhorn and Carl Hulse

The House voted Thursday to let the Defense Department repeal the ban on gay and bisexual people from serving openly in the military, a major step toward dismantling the 1993 law widely known as "don't ask, don't tell."

The provision would allow military commanders to repeal the ban. The repeal would permit gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military for the first time.

It was adopted as an amendment to the annual Pentagon policy bill, which the House is expected to vote on Friday. The repeal would be allowed 60 days after a Pentagon report is completed on the ramifications of allowing openly gay service members, and military leaders certify that it would not be disruptive. The report is due by Dec. 1.

The House vote was 234 to 194, with 229 Democrats and 5 Republicans in favor, after an emotionally charged debate. Opposed were 168 Republicans and 26 Democrats.

Supporters of the repeal hailed it as a matter of basic fairness and civil rights, while opponents charged that Democrats and President Obama were destabilizing the military to advance a liberal social agenda.

"On Memorial Day, America will come together and honor all who served our nation in uniform," Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a floor speech, noting the symbolic timing of the debate. "I urge my colleagues to vote for the repeal of this discriminatory policy of 'don't ask, don't tell' and make America more American."

Separately on Thursday, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved a similar measure allowing the repeal.

The vote, in a closed session, was 16 to 12, with one Republican, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, in favor of the repeal, and one Democrat, Senator Jim Webb of Virginia, in opposition.

Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan and chairman of the committee, said he believed that the full Senate would support permitting the repeal.

Like the House amendment, the Senate measure would allow Pentagon leaders to revoke the ban 60 days after the military study group completes its report and President Obama, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, certify that it would not hamper military readiness and effectiveness or "unit cohesion."

Mr. Obama and Mr. Gates favor repealing the ban, as does Admiral Mullen, who, in testimony before the Armed Services Committee in February, called for a repeal.

In a statement, Mr. Obama said he was "pleased" by the votes.

"This legislation will help make our armed forces even stronger and more inclusive by allowing gay and lesbian soldiers to serve honestly and with integrity," he said.

But chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines have objected. In letters solicited by Senator John McCain of Arizona, the senior Republican on the Armed Services Committee, they urged Congress to delay voting on the issue until after the Defense Department completed its report.

After the committee vote, Mr. McCain said he would continue to fight a repeal when the bill reached the Senate floor. "I think it's really going to be really harmful to the morale and battle effectiveness of our military," he said.

Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, who sponsored the repeal measure, said, "The 'don't ask, don't tell' policy doesn't serve the best interests of our military and doesn't reflect the best values of our country."

"Bottom line," Mr. Lieberman, added, "thousands of service members have been pushed out of the U.S. military not because they were inadequate or bad soldiers, sailors, Marines or airmen but because of their sexual orientation. And that's not what America is all about."

The Armed Services Committee approved the broader policy bill by a vote of 18 to 10, with Mr. Webb and Senator Scott Brown, Republican of Massachusetts, who also opposed the repeal, supporting the broader measure.

With liberals in Congress being asked to vote on an unpopular war spending bill, Democratic leaders there have been pushing to finally do away with a ban that many in their party view as discriminatory and unpatriotic.

The Senate approved the spending bill Thursday night and the House is expected to vote on it early next month.

As the House headed toward the vote, the debate was often emotional.

In a floor speech on Thursday, Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, denounced the policy that requires gay men, lesbians and bisexuals to keep their sexual orientation secret if they want to serve.

Mr. Frank noted that the Israeli military, which he called "as effective a fighting force as has existed in modern times," does not bar gay men or lesbians from service. Mr. Frank, who is openly gay, also said that he would be criticized -- rightly, he said -- if he were to suggest that gay men and lesbians be exempted if a military draft were needed.

Representative Mike Pence of Indiana, the No. 3 Republican in the House, accused Democrats of trying to use the military "to advance a liberal social agenda" and demanded that Congress "put its priorities in order."

Other Republicans said the military was a unique institution and its rules sometimes had to differ from civilian society.

"We are dissing the troops, that is what we are doing," said Representative Howard P. McKeon of California, senior Republican on the Armed Services Committee.

Republicans also questioned if the military leaders who would make the final decision would be able to resist pressure from the White House to lift the ban.

Democrats who backed the repeal compared the vote to the racial integration of the military and hailed the action as allowing all Americans who wanted to serve to do so.

"In the land of the free and the home of the brave, it is long past time for Congress to end this un-American policy," said Representative Tammy Baldwin, a Wisconsin Democrat who is openly gay.

Democrats accused Republicans of mischaracterizing the proposal, by suggesting it would unsettle the troops. "This policy will happen only when the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff stay that it is the right thing to do for this country," said Representative Robert E. Andrews, Democrat of New Jersey.

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This page contains a single entry by cul published on May 28, 2010 1:39 AM.

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