In a historic move, the US senate has finally voted to repeal the ban on gay and lesbian military personnel allowing them to serve openly in the military for the first time in the country’s history.
Senators voted 65-31 on Saturday afternoon to end the 17 year old “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” measure that was enacted during Bill Clinton’s presidency.
The Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law allowed gays and lesbians to serve but only as long as they kept their sexuality secret. It resulted in more than 14,000 people being discharged over the years because of their sexual orientation.
Earlier in the day senators defeated a move by Republican John McCain to stop the repeal bill from being brought to the Senate floor for debate. Eight Republicans supported the repeal of the ban.
The bill will now be given to President Obama to sign into law ensuring that he meets his promise made in January of ending the ban this year.
Sceptics had doubted that there was sufficient political will in Washington to see Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repealed before the end of 2010.
“Today, 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,” said Obama in a statement.
“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,” he added.
Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, called on Defence Secretary Robert Gates to immediately suspend investigations of personnel under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell until the repeal has been officially implemented by the military.
“Even with this historic vote, service members must continue to serve in silence until repeal is final. Certification and the 60-day Congressional requirement must be wrapped up no later than the first quarter of 2011. The bottom line: for now, gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members must remain cautiously closeted,” warned Sarvis.
America’s largest LGBT rights group, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) welcomed the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
“Today, America lived up to its highest ideals of freedom and equality. Congress recognised that all men and women have the right to openly serve their country,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese.
“Plenty of people had already planned the funeral for this legislation. Today, we pulled out a victory from what was almost certain defeat just a few days ago. We are grateful to President Obama, Majority Leader Reid and Sens. Lieberman, Collins and countless others for their dogged determination to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
According to HRC, an estimated 66,000 gays and lesbians are currently on active-duty in the US military.