U.S. House, Senate committee vote to end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee and the full U.S. House of
Representatives both voted to repeal the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell ban on open
gays in the military May 27.

The vote in the Senate committee was 16-12. The vote in the House was
234-194. In the House, only five Republicans voted for repeal and only 26
Democrats voted against it.

A full Senate vote is expected in late June or early July.

However, congressional action will not end the ban.

Language included in the legislation stipulates that the repeal will not
take effect until the Pentagon’s Comprehensive Review Working Group
completes an ongoing study on DADT repeal implementation (scheduled to be
finished Dec. 1), and until President Barack Obama, Secretary of Defense
Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen certify
that the military will not be harmed by implementing the repeal in accord
with the study’s final recommendations, and until 60 additional days have
passed after that certification.

Assuming the repeal continues its trajectory through Congress unscathed,
the earliest the ban could be lifted would be sometime in February 2011 —
which some activists find unacceptable. The repeal is an amendment to the
National Defense Authorization Act, the major spending bill that funds the
U.S. military for next year, and there are several points at which
congressional opponents still could attempt to block the repeal from
landing on Obama’s desk — including a threatened Senate filibuster, led
by homophobe John McCain of Arizona, of the entire defense spending bill.
(The full spending bill passed the House a day later by a vote of

The mainstream of the LGBT movement, however, hailed the May 27

“Lawmakers today stood on the right side of history,” said Human Rights
Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “This is a historic step to strengthen
our armed forces and to restore honor and integrity to those who serve our
country so selflessly.”

“This … demonstrates real momentum in the battle to finally rid the
United States Code of the outdated Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law,” said
Alexander Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, the
largest organization of gay veterans and troops. “All of us who … have
been impacted by this law will remember this day as the beginning of the
end for Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network,
warned that the developments do not yet make it safe for gays and lesbians
in the military to stop hiding.

“It doesn’t end the discharges,” Sarvis said. “It is important for all gay
and lesbian, active-duty service members, including the reserves and the
National Guard, 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.”

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey said the
congressional votes marked “a critical step toward closing a shameful
chapter in our nation’s history, and toward creating a path that could end
in men and women being able to serve openly, honestly, and to great
benefit of our country.”

“While this is an important step toward ending an unjust law, we continue
to call for clear assurances of protection, a specific timeline for repeal
implementation, and an immediate halt to the discharges,” she said. “The
lives and livelihoods of dedicated service members hang in the balance.”

President Obama was happy with the votes.

“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,”
he said. “Key to successful repeal will be the ongoing Defense Department
review, and as such I am grateful that the amendments offered by Rep.
Patrick Murphy and Sens. 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. … 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.”

Direct-action group GetEQUAL, however, was not appeased.

“The sad fact remains that this vote in Congress won’t stop the firings of
lesbian and gay service members,” said co-chair Kip Williams. “We keep
asking the question, ‘When will the military discharges end?’ and have not
yet received an answer from the legislative or executive branches. It is
immoral for the commander in chief to allow even one more investigation or
discharge to happen under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. If not now, then when
will the discharges finally come to a halt? It is the president’s moral
responsibility to issue an executive order banning the firings under Don’t
Ask, Don’t Tell until the process can play itself out. LGBT Americans,
especially those serving our country admirably in uniform, need their
‘fierce advocate’ now.”

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, enacted in 1993, has resulted in the firings of
more than 14,000 service members based on their sexual orientation, and is
estimated to have led tens of thousands more to voluntarily terminate
their military careers because of the burden of lying about who they are.

by Rex Wockner


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