WASHINGTON, Dec. 19, 2010— -- Senator John Kerry, D-Mass., said today that the Senate vote to repeal the ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military "fulfills an enormous promise of equality in our country."
"It means that our citizens will no longer have to lie and live a lie on a daily basis or be denied the opportunity to serve their country," Kerry said on "This Week." "Gay people have served the United States with distinction. They've won awards. They've given their lives all through our history. We had a policy that asked them to lie about it. They no longer have to do that.
"I believe it fulfills an enormous promise of equality in our country," Kerry said. "It's an historic day."
The Senate repealed the 17-year-old "don't ask, don't tell" policy Saturday by a vote of 65-31, with eight Republicans joining Democrats to overturn the Clinton-era policy that forced gay service members to conceal their sexual orientation in order to serve in the military.
A Pentagon review released last month found that the policy could be changed with minimal disruption to the military, and Pentagon officials pushed for Congressional action instead of allowing court-mandated change to the policy.
Senator Richard Lugar, R-Ind., voted against the policy change, citing the concerns of some service branch chiefs that a change in policy during a time of war could be difficult to implement.
"I was influenced by those who are in combat presently in Afghanistan and the testimony of the Marine commandant that the adjustment that would be required by this is one that really ought not be take place," Lugar told "This Week."
The Senate will now turn attention to remaining legislative priorities for the lame-duck session, including continuing debate today on ratifying a new arms control treaty with Russia, known as New START.
"I believe it will pass, and I believe there will be a vote," said Kerry, chairman of the foreign relations committee, who has lobbied for passage before the Senate adjourns for Christmas.
Lugar, a ranking member of the foreign relations committee, has supported the treaty as well, working with Democrats to get the two-thirds majority of Senate votes required.
"Several Republicans will support it, and I join the chairman in believing that there are the votes there," Lugar said. "The problem is really getting to that final vote."
The Senate rejected an amendment Saturday to remove language from the treaty's preamble, introduced by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who argued the language would restrict the United States' abilities on missile defense.
"There is no restraint, zero, none, no restraint whatsoever on our missile defense capacity," Kerry responded. "[Defense Secretary Robert Gates] says it. Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton says it. The intelligence community says it. All of our military leaders want this treaty."
Lugar warned of the dangers if the treaty is not ratified.
"We're saying, as a matter of fact, it's very important to have boots on the ground in Russia inspecting what is occurring, verifying what is occurring," Lugar said. "Furthermore, it's very important that we have negotiations with the Russians ... to take a look at the tactical nuclear weapons, other ways the Russians can work with us against nuclear in Iran or North Korea."