Military Gay-Ban Repeal Easily Passes U.S. House
The House has voted to repeal the "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy that has stifled the service of gays in the military.
The strong House vote to end the policy that since 1993 has barred openly gay people from military service shifts the debate to the Senate. There, Democratic leaders are trying to squeeze in a vote in the final hours of this session of Congress.
President Barack Obama and others trying to repeal the policy are anxious to get a vote this year. Their concern is that Republicans, who take over the House and gain strength in the Senate next year, will move the issue to the legislative back burner.
The standalone legislation would end the policy that since 1993 has barred recruiters from asking about sexual orientation while prohibiting soldiers from acknowledging that they are gay.
The House’s passage throws the issue back to the Senate, where Democratic leaders pledging a vote are running out of time before adjourning this session of Congress. President Barack Obama has called on Congress to end the policy.
When Congress reconvenes in January, Republicans will control the House and command more seats in the Senate, reducing the likelihood of the issue being addressed. Many Republicans, led by Sen. John McCain of Arizona, argue that it would be a mistake for the military to undergo a major cultural change while the nation is fighting two wars.
The issue has also split the military. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other senior military leaders support lifting the restrictions on gay service, pointing to a recent Pentagon study showing that most people in uniform don’t care about the ban. But the head of the Marine Corps, Commandant Gen. James Amos, repeated his opposition this week, saying that lifting the ban during wartime could cost lives. "I don’t want to lose any Marines to the distraction," he said.
The House last May voted 234-194 in favor of repeal legislation as part of a larger defense bill. The measure has stalled twice in the Senate, where Republicans have objected to taking up the bill laded with contentious issues, including "don’t ask, don’t tell."
Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., have introduced a stand-alone bill parallel to the House legislation and supporters say they have the 60 votes needed for passage. A major hurdle is a Republican pledge to block all legislation until the Senate completes work on tax cut and annual spending bills. The Senate on Wednesday passed the compromise on extending tax cuts worked out by the White House and Republicans.
Fred Sainz, spokesman for the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign, said the number of Senate sponsors of the Collins-Lieberman bill has risen to 47. "There’s no doubt that House consideration of the DADT (don’t ask, don’t tell) repeal bill has built momentum for passage by the Senate this year," he said.
More than 13,500 service members have been dismissed under the 1993 law.
The Obama administration supports the repeal, but is appealing the ruling of a California federal judge that the ban on gays serving openly in the military is unconstitutional. The administration says Congress should overturn the policy. But gay rights groups say they will shift their focus back to the courts if Congress fails to act.