House Votes to Repeal 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' as Vote Nears in Senate

House's 234-194 vote follows 16-12 Senate Armed Services Committee vote.

May 27, 2010, 9:36 AM

May 27, 2010— -- The House of Representatives voted by a 234-194 margin late Thursday to repeal the controversial "don't ask, don't tell" policy toward gays in the military.

President Obama said in a statement that he was "pleased" by the House vote.

"This legislation will help make our Armed Forces even stronger and more inclusive by allowing gay and lesbian soldiers to serve honestly and with integrity," the president said.

The amendment to repeal the controversial policy was offered by Iraq war veteran Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Pennsylvania, in the House's version of the defense authorization bill.

"When I served in Baghdad, my team did not care whether a fellow soldier was straight or gay," Murphy said. "Could they do their job so that everybody in our unit could come home safely. With our military fighting two wars, why on earth would we tell over13,500 able-bodied Americans that their services are not needed."

Republicans opposed the change, saying that lawmakers should've voted after the Department of Defense completed its review to see how the policy would be implemented smoothly.

"This is devastating to the war fighters and the combat infantrymen," Rep. John Shimkus, R-Illinois, a former Army Ranger, said as the House debated the measure.

Earlier this evening, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted 16-12 on a similar measure, opening the way for a forthcoming Senate vote on whether to repeal the policy.

According to both the House and Senate measures, any repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" would take effect only after the completion of a Pentagon Working Group study due Dec. 1, 2010. The almost year-long Pentagon review would detail how the repeal would be implemented and how it would affect service members.

The Senate amendment was approved in a closed session of the Armed Services Committee by 15 Democrats and Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. It was attached to the annual defense policy bill and will be considered by the full Senate later this year.

Lawmakers who oppose repealing the ban and others who oppose repealing it this year would need 60 votes to strip it out. It does not appear that there are 60 votes in the Senate against repealing "don't ask, don't tell."

"The 'don't ask, don't tell' policy doesn't serve the best interests of our military. It doesn't reflect the best values of our country," said Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Connecticut, after the vote.

"Bottom line, thousands of service members have been pushed out of the military, not because they're inadequate or bad soldiers, sailors, airmen or Marines, but because of their sexual orientation. And that's not what America's about. We judge people not on who you are or where you came from or what's your religion, nationality, race or gender or sexual orientation, I would hope, but on how you do the job," said Lieberman.

Sen. Jim Webb, D-Virginia, sided with most of the Republicans on the committee. He said he can commiserate with the plight of gay and lesbian service members who cannot be public in their sexuality, but he opposed repealing the ban until the Pentagon review is completed.

"I think its frankly a little disrespectful of the people who are serving to move before that survey came in," said Webb after the vote.

"I think there's going to be many people on active duty who feel like they've been cut out of the process," said Webb.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had initially asked that Congress not begin the legislative process to repeal "don't ask, don't tell" until after the Department of Defense review. The Pentagon said Gates changed his mind after he was informed that would not be possible, a sign that Democrats are expecting a substantial loss in their numbers in Congress in November's mid-term elections.

'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Repeal Faces Stiff Republican Resistance

President Obama, Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen sent Congress a signed certification stating that they've all considered the recommendations, the Pentagon has prepared the necessary policies and regulations to implement it, and that the new policy is "consistent with the standards of military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention of the armed forces."

The three had to certify that the change wouldn't impair the military's ability to fight.

Republican lawmakers panned President Obama and Democrats for moving forward with the vote.

"We're saying we're shoving this down your throat and we don't care," Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, said on the House floor Thursday. "The military is not a social experiment."

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, solicited letters from four service chiefs in the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine, opposing a vote on the repeal until the Pentagon review is finished.

Democrats say the amendment gives Pentagon what they were asking for, a review on the policy before it's actually implemented.

"If you love your country, you ought to be able to serve your country," Rep. Rob Andrews, D-New Jersey, said on the House floor. "That's the change we're talking about today."

Democrats are getting some resistance from conservative members of their caucus, but in the Senate, where the votes were expected to be harder to get, Sen. Ben Nelson's support provided a needed boost to the leadership.

Nelson, a conservative Democrat from Nebraska, said he would support the amendment in the bill and felt that the provision allowing the policy to be implemented after the Pentagon's review ensured that the military would be ready before the ban was lifted.

"In a military which values honesty and integrity, this policy encourages deceit," he said.

The "don't ask, don't tell" policy was implemented in 1993 under President Bill Clinton. It disallows gays and lesbians from openly serving in the U.S. armed forces.

Gay and lesbian rights groups applauded the Senate committee vote, calling it a "historic step."

"The importance of this vote cannot be overstated -- this is the beginning of the end of a shameful ban on open service by lesbian and gay troops that has weakened our national security," Joe Solmonese, president of Human Rights Campaign, a civil rights organization that advocates for gay and lesbian rights, said in a statement. "The stars are aligning to finally restore honor and integrity to those who serve our country so selflessly."

But others say the question of when it will actually be implemented still needs to be answered.

Lt. Dan Choi, a 29-year-old openly-gay service member whose discharge is pending, said the compromise is "absolutely not what we've been asking for" and that he will not be satisfied until the Pentagon actually implements the policy and lifts the ban.

"I don't agree that we have to accept compromises when there's complete injustice," Choi said. "As far as we're concerned, we have a responsibility to continue asking, when are you going to fully repeal discrimination, when can soldiers finally tell the truth about who they are and who they love, when is integrity going to be restored, and the question when hasn't been answered yet so no I'm not satisfied."

ABC News' Kristina Wong contributed to this story.

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