The U.S. House of Representatives has voted to repeal the controversial "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that bans homosexuals from serving openly in the military. The vote to repeal the ban was 250 to 175.
The bill approved by the House Wednesday would end the policy that since 1993 has barred U.S. military recruiters from asking about sexual orientation while prohibiting soldiers from acknowledging they are gay.
Since the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy became law, more than 13,500 members of the armed services have been discharged.
Supporters of repealing the law, such as Democratic Congressman Jared Polis of Colorado, argued sexual orientation has nothing to do with whether or not a person will be a good soldier.
"It is a law that not only is hurtful to the men and women who put themselves at risk serving in our armed forces, but it is a law that is hurtful to our national security. Regardless of their political party people recognize that on the battlefield it does not matter if a soldier is gay or straight. What matters is they get the job done and protect our country," Polis said.
U.S. President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen have all urged lawmakers to repeal the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law.
During debate on the House floor, Democratic Congresswoman Shelia Jackson Lee of Texas said anyone serving in the armed services is a patriotic American. "It is time now to bust this unholy alliance that suggests that men and women whose lifestyles may be different, do not have a heart of gold and love the red, white and blue. It is time now for America to be America. Let us vote for freedom, stand for all those who are brave and stand behind the men and women who fight for us every single day of their lives," she said.
Some of the nation's top uniformed military officers have warned that repealing the ban on gays serving openly in the military could be disruptive and damage soldiers' effectiveness on the battlefield.
Republican Congressman Phil Gingrey of Georgia says such a decision should not be made while U.S. soldiers are fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "I do not believe that now, in the midst of the war on terror, is the time to rewrite tested military policies. Indeed the armed forces is a special institution that must be free to hold itself to stricter rules than those observed by the rest of our society," Gingray said.
Republican Representative Buck McKeon of California agreed, arguing that repealing the law could endanger soldiers on the front lines. "I also believe we should do nothing at this time to threaten the readiness of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, who are at the tip of the spear fighting America's two wars," McKeon said.
After the House approved repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the legislation moves to the Senate where it faces an uncertain future.
Just last week Senators voted against considering a bill that would have allowed homosexuals to serve openly in the armed forces.