First it was the full U.S. House of Representatives and then the much-anticipated Senate Armed Services Committee who voted 16-to-12 last night in favor of an amendment for future contingent repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy (DADT). Despite last-minute lobbying by the Pentagon service chiefs, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) joined 15 Democrats in approving a conditional repeal of DADT, the discriminatory Clinton-era policy that bans openly gay and lesbian service members.
Sen. Collins, the only Republican to vote for the amendment, said it passed after "vigorous and aggressive debate," NPR reported.
Seventeen years and 13,000 discharges later, President Barack Obama, who has been criticized for moving too slowly to dismantle the law, made the following statement: "I have long advocated that we repeal 'Don't Ask Don't Tell,' and I am pleased that both the House of Representatives and the Senate Armed Services Committee took important bipartisan steps toward repeal tonight. Key to successful repeal will be the ongoing Defense Department review, and as such I am grateful that the amendments offered by Representative Patrick Murphy and Senators Joseph Lieberman and Carl Levin that passed today will ensure that the Department of Defense can complete that comprehensive review that will allow our military and their families the opportunity to inform and shape the implementation process. Our military is made up of the best and bravest men and women in our nation, and my greatest honor is leading them as Commander-in-Chief. 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."
Future repeal is contingent on a deal brokered earlier this week that requires the Pentagon's Comprehensive Review Working Group's report on implementing the change, due Dec. 1, certification signed by the president, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, and assurance and that the new policy is consistent with the standards of military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention of the Armed Forces.
Rep. Murphy, a U.S. Army Iraq war veteran who introduced the DADT amendment to the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act in the House, stated in a release: "Congress took a historic step toward repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell and toward ensuring that every American has the same opportunity I did to defend our nation. Patriotic Americans willing to take a bullet for their country should never be forced to lie about who they are in order to serve the country they love. I will not rest until the repeal of this discriminatory policy that hurts national security is signed into law."
Aubrey Sarvis, a U.S. Army veteran and executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), echoed these sentiments in a statement. "The U.S. House and Representatives and the Senate Armed Services Committee both passed a historic roadmap to allowing open military service, but it doesn't end the discharges. It is important for all gay and lesbian active-duty service members … to know they're at risk. They must continue to serve in silence under the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' law that remains on the books. Congress and the Pentagon need to stay on track to get repeal finalized, hopefully no later than first quarter 2011."
Sarvis, one of several activists who crafted the compromise pushing DADT to a vote yesterday, criticized the ninth-hour posturing by Pentagon service chiefs and said they "seemed to have forgotten that they are not the policy makers here. That role in our government rightly belongs to Congress and it was properly exercised today in the dismantling of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'"
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