The US Senate has voted to abolish the ban on gay servicemen serving openly in the military under the controversial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, in a historic move. The vote was put before the Senate after winning favour in the House of Representatives on Thursday, with a 65-31 vote on Saturday ending the 17-year-old measure.
The bill will now be passed to US President Obama who is expected to sign for the new law this week. The President said in a statement:
“By ending ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ no longer will our nation be denied the service of thousands of patriotic Americans forced to leave the military, despite years of exemplary performance, because they happen to be gay. And no longer will many thousands more be asked to live a lie in order to serve the country they love.”
President Obama, who made ending the ban one of his key election pledges, added:
“It is time to close this chapter in our history. It is time to recognise that sacrifice, valour and integrity are no more defined by sexual orientation than they are by race or gender, religion or creed. It is time to allow gay and lesbian Americans to serve their country openly. I urge the Senate to send this bill to my desk so that I can sign it into law.”
The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy has seen more than 13,000 gay servicemen ousted from the military, and the repeal has delighted supporters, including pop star Lady Gaga who wrote on her twitter feed:
“Can’t hold back the tears + pride. We did it! Our voice was heard + today the Senate REPEALED DADT. A triumph for equality after 17 YEARS.”
Defence Secretary Robert Gates, however, has urged for patience as the new law is put in place. He stresses the military will need time to train and educate its personnel.
“It is important that our men and women in uniform understand that while today’s historic vote means that this policy will change, the implementation and certification process will take an additional period of time,” Gates said.
Opponents of lifting the ban are concerned that the repeal will affect the morale and togetherness of troops, particularly during the current period of war. Former Republican presidential candidate John McCain warned against the repeal, stating it is too early to remove the ban.
“Don’t think that it won’t be at great cost…it will probably harm the battle effectiveness which is so vital to the survival of our young men and women in the military,” he said. “This debate is not about the broader social issues that are being discussed in our society, but what is in the best interest of our military at a time of war.”