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HISTORY MADE: HOUSE VOTES TO REPEAL “DON’T ASK, DON’T TELL”

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WASHINGTON — The House just voted 234-194 Thursday night to repeal the military’s discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy, the second of several legislative steps necessary to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly.

The margin of support on the historic vote was more comfortable than expected.

The vote went largely by party lines with 229 Democrats and 5 Republicans voting for the measure, 168 Republicans and 26 Democrats voting against it. Six Democrats and four Republicans did not cast a vote.

National polls showed overwhelming support from the American public. A CNN poll noted that almost eight out of 10 Americans wanted the Clinton-era policy abolished.

Gay rights supporters have been pressing the Obama administration for months to repeal DADT ever since the president called for its abolition during his State of the Union speech in January. But the issue lingered in Congress, which became consumed this year by the contentious health reform debate.

“The U.S. House and Representatives and the Senate Armed Services Committee both passed a historic roadmap to allowing open military service, but it doesn’t end the discharges,” said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

“It is important for all gay and lesbian, active-duty service members, including the reserves and the national guard, to know they’re at risk. They must continue to serve in silence under the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law that remains on the books. Congress and the Pentagon need to stay on track to get repeal finalized, hopefully no later than first quarter 2011. The bottom line: Gay and lesbian service members remain at risk for discharge and cannot serve openly,” he said.

“Chairman Carl Levin, Senator Joe Lieberman, and Rep. Patrick Murphy showed remarkable courage and steadfastness in the face of unprecedented and inappropriate last minute lobbying by the Pentagon service chiefs who seemed to have forgotten that they are not the policy makers here. That role in our government rightly belongs to Congress and it was properly exercised today in the dismantling of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’

“Repeal is moving forward with the support of the President and the Pentagon, including JCS Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. The repeal amendment allowed for Congress to act while respecting the ongoing work by the Pentagon on how to implement open service for lesbian and gay service members. Nothing would happen until the Pentagon Working Group completes its report and the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the President certifies repeal,” Sarvis said.

Servicemembers United appreciated today’s historic votes.

“This second victory for repeal advocates today in the House of Representatives demonstrates real momentum in the battle to finally rid the United States Code of the outdated ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law,” said Alexander Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United and a former U.S. Army interrogator who was discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“All of us who have served under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and who have been impacted by this law will remember this day as the beginning of the end for ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.'”

Like the Senate amendment offered by Senator Lieberman, I-Conn., the House amendment by Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Pa., to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011 would repeal 10 U.S.C. 654, the basis of DADT.

“We are especially grateful to the faithful and principled members of the House of Representatives who voted for this amendment, which fully respects the ongoing study, the Pentagon leadership, and the men and women of the U.S. military. We would especially like to express our sincere appreciation for the tireless efforts of Congressman Patrick Murphy and his staff. Congressman Murphy is a true hero and his courageous role in this fight will go down in history,” Nicholson said.

The Human Rights Campaign applauded the vote.

“Lawmakers today stood on the right side of history,” said Joe Solmonese, HRC president. “This is a historic step to strengthen our armed forces and to restore honor and integrity to those who serve our country so selflessly.”

“Americans recognize that on the battlefield, it does not matter whether service members are gay or straight; what matters is that they get the job done. Those who wish to preserve discrimination in our military will continue to fight this progress but we will be there every step of the way to ensure that qualified men and women are allowed to serve their country, regardless of sexual orientation,” Solmonese said.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, was thrilled by the vote.

“Today’s vote marks a critical step toward closing a shameful chapter in our nation’s history, and toward creating a path that could end in men and women being able to serve openly, honestly, and to great benefit of our country,” she said.

“Seventy-eight percent of Americans say they want ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repealed, and for good reason: It is discriminatory, outdated and costly. The vast majority of people know that it is wrong to discriminate against patriotic men and women willing to risk their lives by serving in the military. Thousands of qualified service members have already been drummed out of the military for nothing other than bias and prejudice, and thousands more live in fear of losing their military careers,” Carey said.

“While this is an important step toward ending an unjust law, we continue to call for clear assurances of protection, a specific timeline for repeal implementation, and an immediate halt to the discharges. The lives and livelihoods of dedicated service members hang in the balance.”

The measure that is working its way through the House and the Senate is a compromise that was hashed out late Monday. The compromise allows for the legislative branch to repeal DADT, but turns over the final authority and certification to the president, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

What is next?

The actual repeal may take months or years to implement.

The next step won’t come until Dec. 1 when the Pentagon Working Group’s study on the DADT issue is due, and that will be followed by a certification process.

How ex-military gays, lesbians and allies react to House vote

Jennifer Blanck of San Diego: CTT3, USN, honorably discharged for homosexuality in 1982, 11 years before DADT, four-plus years of service.

“As long as repealing DADT is aligned with a new law to allow gays to serve openly and not create room for more discrimination to happen, it would be a victory for equality. If I were younger, I would consider re-enlisting.”

Angie Brewer of San Diego: DPC, USN/USNR, 15 years of total service, one of first females to serve in Antarctica.

“I got out after over 12 years of active duty. I had just been selected for promotion to Chief Petty Officer but even that wasn’t enough to keep me on active duty, knowing how further into the closet I would have to go to be the kind of chief I wanted to be. I knew it would only get harder. I no longer wanted to have to hide or be made to feel ashamed of who I was when I had every reason to be proud of what I had accomplished. I didn’t want to wave a gay flag – I just wanted to wave an American flag without fear of being treated like a criminal because I was gay. If DADT is repealed and gays are allowed to serve openly in the military I would feel so relieved and I guess, finally, vindicated. Gays have earned the right to serve proudly.”

Ellen Cotter of San Diego: EN1, USN, honorably discharged for homosexuality in 1988, four years before DADT, 10 years of service.

“It broke my heart what they did to me. I loved the Navy. They found out I was gay, took away a well earned chevron (stripe) and then kept me in for another year so I could overhaul the emergency diesel engine, because no one else could do it. Then they escorted me off the ship. Gays have been serving for centuries and it doesn’t mean we don’t love our country. The United States is supposed to be a leader in the world and yet other countries have allowed gays to serve for years. It’ll be about friggin time.”

Lee Harper of Honolulu, Hawaii: MR2 (AW), USN, honorably discharged (RE4) for homosexuality in 1992, one year before DADT, 10-plus years of service. Currently working as civilian at U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

“I would feel much happiness knowing all military personnel are able to serve their country proudly knowing they can perform their job 110 percent and for their loved ones to be just as proud. No more hiding!”

Cynthia Kuder of San Diego: DP2, USN, medically retired in 1986, six years of service.

“I feel that it brings us one step closer to the day when the military not only accepts gay and lesbian service members, but also acknowledges their partners who have stood by them throughout their military service as any good military spouse would.”

Julie Martinez of San Diego: LT, SC, USN, left in 2001, eight years of personal service, 17 years as a Navy wife.

“Repeal it. We should all be allowed to serve honorably and without fear of retribution. The guys in the maintenance office are all for it too, which surprised me!”

Mary Jo Matheson of Grand Rapids, Mich. : DPCS, USN, retired 1997, 20 years of service, Persian Gulf War veteran.

“I think that maybe for the first time in my life I would feel truly VALIDATED and it would make all the enormous stress of serving for over twenty years with the fear of being discovered and kicked out at least palatable. And of course I would be deliriously happy for my brothers and sisters still serving!”

Patricia McDermott of San Diego: HTC, USN, retired in 1999, 20 years of service, Persian Gulf War veteran.

“I would be surprised. If they would just administer the UCMJ appropriately for misconduct and not concern themselves with the sexual orientation of military personnel, this controversy would be moot.”

Kim Moreira of San Diego: LCDR, USN, retired in 2004, 24 years of service, eight of those enlisted, Persian Gulf War veteran.

“I’m all for it! It’s the right thing and has taken far too long to happen.”

Joy Supan of San Diego: SA, USN, Other Than Honorable (OTH) discharge in 1994 under DADT, one year of total service.

“I would be so relieved, like a weight has been lifted and very emotional knowing that what happened to me, hopefully won’t happen anymore to the thousands of other lesbians and gays serving in the future, that they won’t have to be scared or hide their true selves. I will cry; I’m sure of it.”

Connie Villescas of San Diego: SGT, USMC, 12 years of service, Persian Gulf War veteran.

“I would feel absolutely wonderful that men and women who serve our country could do so without fear of being discharged based on who they love and share their life with. No more witch hunts!”

What happened earlier Thursday

Earlier on Thursday, the Senate Armed Services Committee during a rare closed session voted 16-12 to repeal DADT, which was the first legislative step necessary to actually eliminate it.

The measure needed only 15 votes for approval to get out of committee. Fourteen Democrats, one Independent and one Republican voted aye.

The amendment was authored by Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., and strongly supported by committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich.

Warning to active service members who are gay or lesbian

To read a warning from the SLDN, click HERE.

SDGLN Copy Editor Morgan Hurley, who left the Navy because of the discriminatory policy against gays and lesbians that existed previous to DADT, contributed to this report.

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