Historic votes are cast, but hurdles remain for ending 'don't ask, don't tell'

Saturday, May 29, 2010

RECENT POLLS have shown that the American people overwhelmingly support allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military. Congress reflected that view late Thursday when a Senate committee and the full House of Representatives voted to repeal the 17-year-old "don't ask, don't tell" policy. The vote was a victory for anyone who abhors discrimination. But it's not a done deal yet.

The Senate Armed Services Committee voted 16 to 12 to include the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" in the massive Defense Department spending bill. The House then voted 234 to 194 to lift the ban on gays in the military. Key to passage was a compromise delaying implementation of the repeal until after the Pentagon Working Group delivers its report (due Dec. 1) on how integration of openly gay men and lesbians would affect the military and how such a nondiscriminatory policy would be implemented. President Obama, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, must certify that lifting the ban would not negatively affect the armed forces.

Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), an Iraq war veteran, deserves high praise for his dogged determination to persuade enough of his colleagues to cast the historic vote. We also congratulate Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) for mustering the votes, including that of Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), to get the amendment and the bill out of the Armed Services Committee. Sens. James Webb (D-Va.) and Scott Brown (R-Mass.) managed to say no and yes. Each voted against repeal but for the overall bill, which goes to the full Senate for a vote next month.

Two hurdles remain before the demise of "don't ask, don't tell" can be assured. The House version of the defense bill contains a provision for a jet engine program for F-35 fighter jets that Mr. Gates doesn't want and that has earned (rightly) a veto threat from the administration, reiterated by the president Friday. Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and other Republicans are threatening to support a filibuster because the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" is in the bill.

Mr. McCain once said he'd accept the verdict of Pentagon brass on this matter. Now Mr. Gates and Adm. Mullen are on board, but Mr. McCain has vowed to "do everything in my power" to fight the bill. It's sad to watch.

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