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'Don't ask, don't tell' is repealed by Senate; bill awaits Obama's signing

After the House voted to repeal the policy, the Senate took on the issue and also voted to lift the 17-year-old ban on gays in the military.

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Ahead of Saturday's vote, senators laid out their positions for and against ending the ban.

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"As Barry Goldwater said, 'You don't have to be straight to shoot straight,' " said Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), referring to the late GOP senator from Arizona.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a leading opponent of the measure, said liberals with no military experience were pushing a social agenda on troops during wartime despite reservations among the fighting forces.

"They will do what is asked of them," McCain said of the troops. "But don't think there won't be a great cost."

Gay rights activists always assumed that at least four Republican senators would vote to end the ban, but Saturday's result yielded a total of eight.

The bill's GOP co-sponsor, Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), said Saturday that she knew two party colleagues - George V. Voinovich (Ohio) and Mark Steven Kirk (Ill.) - would join her, Scott Brown (Mass.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Olympia J. Snowe (Maine) in voting to end the ban. She suspected that John Ensign (Nevada) might also join them, and she called an unexpected yes vote from Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.), "gutsy."

"This is one of the days where you really feel privileged to be in the U.S. Senate," said Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), the other co-sponsor of the bill. "There's been a lot of difficult times the last couple of years because it's so partisan to get anything done. But here we are, it came together."

The House on Wednesday approved the repeal bill on a vote of 250 to 175. Obama will sign the legislation this week, the White House said.

The Senate vote delivered another significant bipartisan victory for the president, one day after he signed an $858 billion tax-cut package that the White House negotiated with congressional Republicans.

Next steps

The ban will not be formally lifted until after Obama and top military leaders report to Congress that they have reviewed the findings of the Pentagon review about the ban, released last month, and that the Defense Department has drafted policies and regulations to stop enforcing it. Those changes must not affect troop readiness, cohesion or military recruitment and retention, according to the law.

Even after the finding, lawmakers will be able to hold hearings for two months to review the Pentagon's policies and procedures for accepting openly gay troops, according to congressional aides familiar with the matter.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Saturday that the law remains in effect and that the process of implementing the change in policy "will take an additional period of time."

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