House, Senate Committee Back Repeal of Military’s Ban on Gays

The U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday backed repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban on gays serving openly in the military.

The House voted 234-194 to adopt an amendment by Pennsylvania Democratic Representative Patrick Murphy, an Iraq war veteran, which revokes the bar on service by acknowledged gays and lesbians while giving the Defense Department flexibility on implementing a new policy.

The Senate panel’s action came earlier yesterday during a closed committee meeting on a $567 billion defense authorization bill for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. Michigan Democratic Senator Carl Levin, the committee chairman, said the vote was 16-12. The proposal still faces consideration by the full Senate.

The actions rejected the position of some U.S. military commanders, who said they wanted to let the Pentagon complete a survey on the attitudes of service personnel before Congress acted and the repeal became law.

Senator Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut independent who worked with Murphy on the measure, said Congress took “a historic step forward to strengthen our military effectiveness, and to begin to end a discriminatory policy that dishonors those patriotic Americans who are willing to defend our country.”

‘Jumped the Gun’

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, a Missouri Democrat who opposed repeal, said in a statement that he was “disappointed that my colleagues jumped the gun and acted before the Pentagon could complete its review.”

The Obama administration supported the legislation, which would revoke the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law while giving the Pentagon time to study a new policy on gays and lesbians in the armed forces.

President Barack Obama said after the votes 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.” In a statement, Obama said he was “grateful” that the amendment lets the Pentagon study proceed.

Five Republicans in the House joined 229 Democrats in backing repeal of the ban: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, Judy Biggert of Illinois, Anh Joseph Cao of Louisiana, Ron Paul of Texas, and Charles Djou of Hawaii. Twenty-six Democrats and 168 Republicans voted no.

The issue can be considered again in the full Senate as an amendment to the military authorization bill.

Senate Consideration

Levin told reporters he is confident the measure will survive any attempts to defeat it on the Senate floor because of “the very careful way it’s going to be implemented.”

The Senate committee’s ranking Republican, John McCain of Arizona, said before yesterday’s vote that he opposed the proposal.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said through a spokesman that he “can accept” the plan to repeal the law, although he believes the Pentagon’s review should be completed first.

Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz, Marine Corps Commandant General James Conway and Army Chief of Staff General George W. Casey Jr. said in letters to McCain that they opposed the proposal.

In contrast, Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he is comfortable with the repeal because it includes “very clear language” giving military leaders the final decision on whether it is implemented, the American Forces Press Service reported yesterday.

‘Testing Ground’

Representative Tom Price of Georgia, chairman of the House’s Republican Study Committee, released a statement opposing repeal, saying the military “should never be used as a testing ground for social policy, especially not during wartime.”

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington-based gay rights advocacy group, said lawmakers who voted to end the ban “stood on the right side of history.”

“Americans recognize that on the battlefield, it does not matter whether service members are gay or straight -- what matters is that they get the job done,” Solmonese said in a statement.

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