WASHINGTON – The Senate moments ago dealt a severe blow to efforts to repeal the military’s discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy that prohibits gays and lesbians from serving openly.
Both sides of the aisle played politics at the expense of equal rights.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who is in a fight for his political career against a Tea Party candidate in November, infuriated Republicans when he said he would limit debate on the defense bill to DADT and the two other amendments – and not allow other amendments to be tacked on.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who opposes overturning the 17-year-old ban that was established during the Clinton administration, threatened to conduct a filibuster to prevent the vote from taking place.
It takes 60 out of 100 votes in the Senate to beat back a filibuster, and Reid could not muster enough votes to pass the motion to proceed to general debate.
During his State of the Union address in January, President Barack Obama called for the abolition of DADT by year’s end. But since then, Obama has done very little, at least publicly, to push for the repeal and deferred to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his request to complete by Dec. 1 an expensive survey of the troops.
Gay rights supporters have grown weary over the inaction and the political grandstanding by both parties.
““Today’s Senate vote was a frustrating blow to repeal this horrible law. We lost because of the political maneuvering dictated by the mid-term elections,” said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.
“Let’s be clear: Opponents to repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ did not have the votes to strike those provisions from the bill. Instead, they had the votes for delay. Time is the enemy here. We now have no choice but to look to the lame duck session where we’ll have a slim shot. The Senate absolutely must schedule a vote in December when cooler heads and common sense are more likely to prevail once midterm elections are behind us. Servicemembers Legal Defense Network will continue to take this fight to the American people, the vast majority of whom support repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’”
The vote was criticized by Servicemembers United.
"Today's vote is a failure of leadership on the part of those who have been duly elected to serve this nation and to put the best interests of the country ahead of partisan politics," said Alexander Nicholson, founder and executive director of Servicemembers United.
"The Senate could learn a good lesson from those who serve in uniform and who stand to benefit from proceeding to debate on this bill - serving this country means putting politics aside and getting the job done. It is simply inexcusable that this vote failed today."
The votes to break the filibuster had previously been lined up, but last week Majority Leader Reid decided to use an uncommon procedural privilege on the bill that eroded support for breaking the filibuster and guaranteed the vote's failure. Intense lobbying and public pressure over the past week proved not to be enough to force either side to back down.
The Senate will not likely take up the defense authorization bill again until after the mid-term elections in November.
Rea Carey, executive director of National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, blasted the vote.
“Once again, politicians are playing politics with people's lives. Filibustering the defense authorization bill to block action on 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' repeal and the DREAM Act — two measures that do justice to the fundamental principle of fairness — is a disappointment and disservice to our country. Seventy-eight percent of Americans support ending 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' and countless others believe that young people should be provided a path to citizenship in the country they love and have always called home. Today's Senate vote mocks those ideals. The senators who led and supported the filibuster effort should be ashamed,” Carey said.
GetEQUAL leaders were furious.
“We are outraged after watching our right to serve openly in the military be volleyed back and forth like a political football while our community has done all we possibly can to secure our dignity.
“Just a few minutes ago, the U.S. Senate voted to not move forward with a debate over the National Defense Authorization Act -- the piece of legislation containing a vehicle to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Despite the support of nearly 80% of Americans , President Obama, Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), and the entire U.S. Congress failed in epic proportions to round up the votes necessary to move forward with the repeal of this discriminatory policy.
“Every single day there are soldiers in the process of being discharged under this policy. When dealing with basic civil rights, it no longer matters if you can take up that fight -- it matters if you won't.
“Four months ago, we asked the President to stop military discharges while the U.S. Congress haggled over our rights. He didn't respond, and we're now seeing the result of this complete lack of Presidential leadership and courage. So we're taking the fight back to the White House. …
“Despite this abysmal failure of Congress, there is something President Obama can do immediately to protect our gay and lesbian soliders -- even if full repeal is dead in the water for now. We are calling on the President to issue an Executive Order RIGHT NOW to unequivocally state that military discharges must end, immediately,” the GetEQUAL leaders wrote in an e-mail.
The Human Rights Campaign immediately called on the Justice Department not to appeal the DADT court case in California in which a federal judge ruled that DADT was unconstitutional.