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USA Today: Senate Passes “Don’t Ask,” Sends Repeal to Obama
In a historic move, the Senate on Saturday passed a bill to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that clears the way for gay people to serve openly in the military. The legislation now goes to President Obama, who will sign it into law. “No longer will our nation be denied the service of thousands of patriotic Americans … because they happen to be gay,” Obama said before the vote.
The final vote was 65-31, with eight Republicans crossing the aisle to support the measure.
The policy does not change overnight: Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen must first certify that lifting the ban will not adversely affect the military. Then there is a 60-day period as the Pentagon writes new rules.
Gates issued a statement saying he is pleased with the vote and vowed that the Pentagon would “carry out the change carefully and methodically, but purposefully.” The effort will be led by Clifford Stanley, under secretary for personnel and readiness and a retired Marine major general. Mullen also hailed the vote, saying “we will be a better military” because gay men and women will not “have to sacrifice their integrity to do so.”
About 14,000 servicemembers have been discharged since 1993, when the policy became part of federal law. Aubrey Sarvis of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, one of the groups behind the repeal effort, is calling on Gates to suspend discharges and investigations of servicemembers under the current “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy while new rules are being written.
During Senate debate, Republican Sen. John McCain and other opponents argued that changing the policy would disrupt U.S. troops as they fight wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. McCain blasted the Senate Democratic majority for pushing a “social political agenda” in the waning days of a lame-duck Congress and ignoring voters, who last month elected more Republicans to the Senate and gave the GOP the majority in the House. “They know they can’t get it done on Jan. 5,” McCain said of Senate Democrats, citing the date that the new Congress takes office.
A Pentagon study released earlier this month said gay troops could serve openly without affecting the U.S. military’s ability to fight. About 72% of servicemembers thought that repeal would have mixed or no effect on the readiness of their unit, according to the report.
It also found that a majority — 52% — said there would be mixed or no effect on unit or task cohesion when working with an servicemember who is open about his or her sexual orientation.
Despite support from Obama and Gates for repeal, top generals in the military service branches have voiced their concerns. Marine Corps Commandant James Amos has said overturning the ban could lead to casualties in a time of war.
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