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

Ukraine President Appeals for More US Support

Speaking before Congress ahead of meeting with President Obama, Petro Poroshenko urges lawmakers to back Ukraine in its quest for freedom and democracy More

Photogallery Global Audience Watches as Scots Go to the Polls

People were almost equally divided over a vote for independence, watched closely by Britain's allies, investors and restive regions at home and abroad More

China to Invest $20B in India Amid Border Dispute

Border spat between armies of two countries in Himalayas underlines mutual tensions despite growing commercial ties highlighted by Xi Jinping's high-profile visit 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.
A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Wateri
X
September 17, 2014 8:44 PM
Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid