News / USA

US Senate Votes to End Ban on Openly-Gay Military Service

Michael Bowman

The U.S. Senate has voted overwhelmingly to end America's ban on openly-gay military service, setting the stage for what some are calling a major advancement of civil rights and others are decrying as risky social engineering at a time of war. A handful of Republican senators joined a united Democratic caucus to repeal the law known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

The Senate vote paves the way for homosexual troops to serve without fear of discharge for their orientation. Some 14,000 American service members have been expelled under a 1993 law that permits gays in uniform only if their sexuality remains secret.

The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Democrat Carl Levin of Michigan, spoke passionately ahead of the landmark vote. "The first casualty in the war in Iraq was a gay soldier. A [land]mine took off his right leg. And that mine that took off his leg didn't give a darn whether he was gay or straight [heterosexual]. We shouldn't, either," he said.

Senate action on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" had been in doubt until several moderate Republicans announced support for repeal. Intensively lobbying them was Independent Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who said ending the ban on openly-gay military service is in keeping with America's ideals of liberty and equality. "We have an opportunity not just to right a wrong, not just to honor the service of American patriots who happen to be gay and lesbian, but to advance the values that the founders of our country articulated in our original American documents," he said.

Repeal opponents argued against forcing the military to revise personnel policies at a time of war. Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona disputed claims that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" harms the armed forces by expelling qualified soldiers. "The military has the highest recruiting and highest retention [rates] of any time in its history," he said.

McCain accused Democrats of subverting national security interests to the narrow agenda of leftist activists. But even before a vote had been cast, he conceded that the ban on openly-gay service would end. He then made a prediction: "I am confident that, with this repeal, our military - the best in the world - will salute and do the best they can to carry out the orders of the commander-in-chief. That is the nature of our military. But don't think that it will not be at great cost," he said.

McCain pointed to comments by America's  top Marine officer suggesting that the presence of gay troops could prove a distraction in combat and lead to casualties. General James Amos expressed opposition to lifting "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", but said Marines will comply with any directive they are given. A recent Pentagon study showed most service members have few, if any objections to serving alongside an openly-gay colleague.

President Barack Obama and America's top military officials hailed the Senate vote, which sends the bill to the president's desk. Once signed into law, the Defense Department will have several months to prepare for the change in policy. The bill stipulates that existing policy will remain in effect until the president, the secretary of defense, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff affirm that the Pentagon is ready to implement the change.

While conservative social groups lambasted the Senate vote, repeal advocates are celebrating.

"It's an exciting day," said  David Hall, a former Air Force staff sergeant discharged under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell. He was one of dozens of gay ex-service members who watched Saturday's vote from the Senate gallery. "Our military is going to be better. It [repeal] is not going to be a huge change in the military. Now we are just not going to get rid of qualified people," he said.

Once implemented, repeal will quell court battles surrounding "Don't Ask, Don't Tell". A federal appeals court is currently reviewing a lower court ruling that found the policy unconstitutional.

You May Like

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

Despite Western concerns that IS militants are preparing a Jordanian offensive, analysts call the kingdom's solid intel a strong deterrent More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s Century-Old House Falling Apart

One of the most fascinating people in U.S. history was Quanah Parker, the last chief of the American Indian tribe, the Comanche. He was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Parker was a fierce warrior until 1875 when he led his people to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and took on a new, peaceful life. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Cache, Oklahoma, Quanah’s image remains strong among his people, but part of his heritage is in danger of disappearing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid