The US Senate has voted 65 to 31 to repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the ban on openly gay people serving in the military. Since the ban was introduced in 1993, more than 13,500 LGBT service personnel have been dismissed from the military.
The bill will now be passed to President Barack Obama who has already confirmed that he will sign it into law.
In a prepared statement, President Obama said: “The Senate has taken an historic step toward ending a policy that undermines our national security while violating the very ideals that our brave men and women in uniform risk their lives to defend. By ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, no longer will our nation be denied the service of thousands of patriotic Americans forced to leave the military, despite years of exemplary performance, because they happen to be gay. And no longer will many thousands more be asked to live a lie in order to serve the country they love.
“It is time to close this chapter in our history. It is time to recognise that sacrifice, valour and integrity are no more defined by sexual orientation than they are by race or gender, religion or creed. It is time to allow gay and lesbian Americans to serve their country openly.”
The repeal will take effect after a 60-day period to allow the US Defense Department to consider how best to implement the new policy.
“Don’t ask, don’t tell is wrong,” said Democrat Senator for Oregan, Ron Wyden, said earlier this morning. “I don’t care who you love. If you love this country enough to risk your life for it, you shouldn’t have to hide who you are. You ought to be able to serve.”
“You don’t have to be straight to shoot straight,”‘ said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Republican Senator for Arizona and former US Presidential candidate John McCain warned that the end of the ban would be welcomed only by the “elites” in society without any thought to the military consequences of ending the ban. “I hope that when we pass this legislation that we will understand that we are doing great damage,” he said.”And we could possibly – and probably – as the Commandant of the Marine Corps said … harm the battle effectiveness that is so vital to the survival of our young men and women in the military.”
Mr McCain was referring to comments earlier this week by the head of the Marines who said that repealing the ban could lead to the death of troops.
“When your life hangs on a line, on the intuitive behaviour of the young man … who sits to your right and your left, you don’t want anything distracting you,” said Marine Commandant General James Amos.
“I don’t want to lose any Marines to distraction. I don’t want to have any Marines that I’m visiting at Bethesda [hospital] with no legs,” he added.
On Thursday, the House of Representatives voted 250 to 175 in favour of repealing the ban. This put the Senate under pressure to vote on the issue today, before the ‘lame duck’ Congress goes into recess.
Senator Joe Lieberman, the lead sponsor of the bill, said the ban on openly gay people serving in the military is “inconsistent with basic American values”.
“To force the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy on the military is to force them to be less than they want to be – and less than they can be,” he said earlier today. “These people simply want to serve their country.”
Welcoming the vote this evening, Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin said: “The Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy is a threat to our national security. Since 1994, more than 13,000 highly trained service members have been discharged as a result of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. In the last five years, while our country has been engaged in two wars, the military has discharged more than 800 mission-critical troops under this policy, including more than 50 Arabic linguists.”
She added: “I look forward to the expeditious implementation of all policies necessary to end discrimination against gays and lesbians who currently serve or wish to serve in the military. I will continue to work for full equality for LGBT Americans. In the United States of America, there is no place for irrational and insidious discrimination in any sector of society.”
Aubrey Sarvis, head of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an advocacy group, said: “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.”