House, Senate panel vote to repeal military gay ban
The House voted late 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 New York Times
The day in D.C.
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Seattle Times news services
WASHINGTON — The House voted late 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.
The provision was adopted as an amendment to the annual Pentagon policy bill, on which the House is expected to vote 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 234-194, with 229 Democrats and five Republicans in favor. Opposed were 168 Republicans and 26 Democrats. The Washington delegation voted along party lines, with Democrats voting yes and Republicans voting no.
Supporters of the repeal hailed it as a matter of basic fairness and civil rights, while opponents said Democrats and President Obama were destabilizing the military to advance a liberal social agenda.
Separately Thursday, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved a similar measure allowing the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell."
The vote, in a closed session, was 16-12, with one Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, in favor of the repeal, and one Democrat, Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia, in opposition.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the committee, said he believed 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 Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, certify that it will not hamper military readiness and effectiveness or "unit cohesion."
By adding the compromise to a defense-authorization measure, Democratic leaders hope to avoid an attempt by foes to block the repeal. To stop it, Senate Republicans would have to filibuster the entire authorization measure, which sets overall parameters for military spending.
Obama and Gates favor repealing the ban, as does Mullen, who, in testimony before the Armed Services Committee, called for a repeal.
But chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines have objected. In letters solicited by Sen. 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, 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.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., 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," he 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 18-10, with Webb and Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., who also opposed the repeal, supporting the broader measure.
With liberals in Congress being asked to vote on an unpopular war-spending bill, congressional Democratic leaders have been pushing to do away with a ban that many view as discriminatory and unpatriotic.
The Senate approved the spending bill Thursday night and the House is expected to vote on it next month.
As the House headed toward the vote, the debate was often emotional.
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., denounced the policy, noting 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.
Frank, who is gay, also said 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.
Material from The Associated Press and the Tribune Washington bureau is included in this report.
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