The commanders of three branches of the U.S. military told a congressional committee Friday that they are opposed to an immediate repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the policy that keeps openly gay individuals from serving in the armed forces.More >>
The Senate Armed Services Committee painted partisan lines as it listened to senior military officials instruct it to repeal DADT before year's end because of the looming legal uncertainty that surrounds it.More >>
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Tuesday that Congress should take up the repeal of DADT in order to mitigate the effects of a repeal should the courts strike down the law first.More >>
WASHINGTON (RNN) - President Barack Obama on Wednesday will pave the way for thousands of closeted gay members of the military to serve openly for the first time in 17 years.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs announced Monday that Obama will sign the legislation repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" into law on Wednesday.
The controversial legislation was approved overwhelmingly Saturday by the Senate in a 65-31 vote.
"This is an historic moment," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-ME, a co-sponsor of the repeal legislation, in a news release. "Like our closest allies, the United States's Armed Forces should welcome the service of any qualified individual who is willing and capable of serving our country."
DADT was signed into law by former President Bill Clinton in 1993.
Even with Obama's signature, the repeal will not immediately take effect. The legislation states that the president, secretary of defense, and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff must each certify that all new policies are consistent with the military's standards of readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion, recruiting and retention.
"I look forward to working with Secretary Gates and the service chiefs as we set about the task of preparing and certifying the joint force to implement the new law," said Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a news release. "And I am committed to making sure that process is well-led, maintains our combat readiness and upholds our high standards."
Gates announced that Dr. Clifford Stanley, under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness and a retired marine general, will lead the planning efforts to implement repeal. His work, Gates said, will begin as soon as the bill is signed into law.
Until Senators Collins and Lieberman introduced a standalone repeal bill to the Senate floor last week, prospects of repeal seemed dead. For gay rights groups, today's passage is a landmark victory for their struggle.
"This has been a long-fought battle, but this failed and discriminatory law will now be history," Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a news release. "Congress now joins the majority of our troops and the American public in the common sense belief that on the battlefield, it does not matter whether a service member is lesbian, gay or straight. What matters is that a service member gets the job done."
In a major breakthrough Saturday morning, a bipartisan coalition of senators was able to defeat a Republican-led filibuster that allowed the final repeal vote to take place at 3 p.m. Saturday.
Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, who had been the most vocal opponent against ending DADT, admitted his imminent defeat when he addressed the Senate floor Saturday morning.
"There will be high-fives all over the liberal bastions of America," he said, foreshadowing Sunday morning headlines across the nation.
In a final plea, the senator expressed concern that military lives would be lost due to the distraction caused by changing a long-standing policy in the midst of war. There "will be additional sacrifices," he warned.
Fifty-six Democrats and six Republicans voted to the contrary, however.
"If you care about national security, if you care about military readiness, then you will repeal this corrosive policy," said Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, D-NY.
Under the policy, some 14,000 troops, whose training costs are estimated at $500 million in taxpayer dollars, have been discharged. Gillibrand said that number includes 10 percent of foreign language specialists, who are irreplaceable.
For the bill's co-sponsor, Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-CT, the vote goes beyond the national security risks it imposes.
"It's not only bad for the military, it's inconsistent with our values," he said.
In an emotional speech, Sen. Carl Levin, D-MI, spoke about the first casualty in the Iraq war - a gay soldier whose life was taken by a landmine.
"And that mine didn't give a darn if he was gay or straight," the senator said. "We shouldn't, either."
That's something the majority of Republicans don't seem to see eye-to-eye with. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, said that a vote to repeal or not repeal was about effectiveness on the battlefield and "not about civil rights."
But even his allies conceded that the policy might at some point become outdated.
"Should it be done at some point in time?" asked Sen. Saxy Chambliss, R-GA. "Maybe so."
In order for a bill to move to a final vote in the Senate, a procedural vote that agrees to debate must first be taken. A bill can be blocked from debate if it does not obtain the 60 votes required to do so.
The DADT standalone repeal cleared that hurdle with a 63-33 vote. It was twice blocked in its previous form as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Bill.
As a result, final passage was guaranteed for Saturday's vote.
The House repealed the law on Wednesday by a decisive vote of 250-175.
The repeal fulfills a campaign promise made by Obama to the gay community.
While this was one political victory for Democrats, a defeat came Saturday morning when the Republican party successfully filibustered an immigration reform bill known as the DREAM Act by a vote of 55-41.
If passed, the bill would have provided a path to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally by their patents. They must be under 30-years-old, have a high school degree or GRE and spend a minimum of two years in college or in the military, among other requirements.
While addressing the Senate floor, Republicans reprimanded Democrats for not allowing amendments to be tacked on to either bill and for attempts to limit debate in order to push through their political agenda.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, said that as far as DADT goes, accusations that there haven't been hearings after hearings were "nonsensical."