House votes to end 'don't ask, don't tell' policy

Congress has taken two big steps toward ending the "don't ask, don't tell" ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military. The House passed a measure repealing the law. The Senate will debate the measure next month.
By Perry Bacon Jr. and Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, May 28, 2010

The House voted Thursday night to repeal "don't ask, don't tell," the controversial policy barring openly gay men and lesbians from serving in the military.

The measure -- an amendment to a defense policy bill -- passed 234 to 194, delivering a major victory to gay rights activists who have opposed the Pentagon policy since it was enacted in 1993. It also marks the most aggressive step by Democrats in implementing President Obama's campaign pledge to end the policy.

The legislation includes a provision ensuring that no change would take effect until the Pentagon completes a study about its impact on troops, due to Congress Dec. 1. It also requires that a policy change would not affect the military's ability to fight wars or recruit soldiers.

Democrats pushed ahead on the issue over the objections of some key military leaders, who said Congress should have waited to vote until the study is complete.

Twenty-six Democrats voted against the amendment, while five Republicans voted for it.

Earlier Thursday, the Senate Armed Services Committee also voted to change the policy, on a 16 to 12 vote. Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) joined 11 Republicans in opposing the change, while Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) voted with the Democrats. The full Senate is likely to consider the issue next month.

Obama hailed the votes, saying in a statement that the "legislation will help make our Armed Forces even stronger and more inclusive by allowing gay and lesbian soldiers to serve honestly and with integrity."

The votes came after fierce debates on both sides of the Capitol.

"We're saying, 'We're shoving this down your throat, we don't care,' " said Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.), arguing that Congress should have waited to hear from the military before taking action. He added, "The military is not a social experiment."

But Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), one of the few openly gay members of Congress, blasted defenders of "don't ask, don't tell" and said that such restrictions don't exist in other militaries.

"Those who tell me that the presence of gay and lesbian members of the military undermine the effectiveness of a fighting force and undermine unit cohesion must have never heard of Israel," he said.

The Senate committee debated the issue for more than an hour, in a closed-door session that members described as heated and vigorous. (Armed Services Committee hearings are often closed, so confidential defense matters can be discussed, and members did not decide to open the hearing for the "don't ask" debate.)

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