Two Big Victories

Allowing Gays and Lesbians to Serve Openly in the U.S. Armed Forces

Congress took a historic step toward ensuring the full integrity of our military and gay equality yesterday with two key votes to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on military service for openly gay men and women. The Senate Armed Services Committee voted 16 to 12 to include language repealing the ban in the Defense Authorization bill, and the House voted 234 to 194 to do the same. Both votes were bipartisan.

Both the Senate committee and the House showed their understanding that what matters most on the battlefield is the ability to complete the mission, not irrelevant personal characteristics such as sexual orientation. More than 13,500 service members were discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” for the 17 years that the law has been on the books, with thousands more gay and lesbian service members deciding not to re-enlist each year.

The amendment that was voted on yesterday repeals the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” statute with delayed implementation. The implementation would occur after the Pentagon Working Group finishes its review of the policy and the president, secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify that the military has developed policies for repeal that is “consistent with the military’s standards of readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion and recruitment and retention.” This certification language was developed by our sister organization, the Center for American Progress Action Fund, and allowed Congress to vote this year while respecting the Pentagon’s process.

With yesterday’s votes, we cleared large hurdles on the path to repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The votes were testament to the strong leadership of Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT), as well as Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-PA). This leadership will serve us well as this bill reaches the Senate floor, and eventually the president’s desk.

Winnie Stachelberg is the Senior Vice President for External Affairs and Josh Rosenthal is a Research Associate at American Progress.

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