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|‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal a landmark for gay rights|
|by Ryan Watkins|
|December 24, 2010 00:00|
In a landmark victory for LGBT rights, the U.S. Senate passed a repeal measure for the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy last weekend.
The House of Representatives approved the measure days earlier, meaning the bill now goes to President Barack Obama, who at press time was scheduled to sign it into law Dec. 22.
The victory means several LGBT organizations focused on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will now move to an emphasis on implementing repeal and helping gay soldiers integrate in the military.
Activists are also quick to point out that the legislation does not immediately remove the ban on openly gay military members.
“The bottom line is DADT is still in effect and it is NOT safe to come out,” Servicemembers Legal Defense Network warned in a public statement, encouraging gay people currently serving in the military or interested in joining to first contact the non-profit’s legal hotline (202-328-3244, x100, or [email protected]).
After the repeal bill is signed into law, President Obama, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen must certify that the military is able to institute repeal without any adverse effect on the armed forces.
No indication has been made about the process used to certify the bill or how long it would take. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will be officially repealed 60 days after the certification.
The Senate voted on a standalone repeal measure after several attempts to pass the 2011 Defense Authorization Act, which had repeal language attached, failed to move forward due to Republican objections over procedure. Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Ct.) and Susan Collins (R-Me.) introduced the standalone bill.
On Dec. 18, the Senate passed the measure 63 to 33. Several Republicans crossed party lines to support the final vote.
The House of Representatives passed an identical measure 250 to 175 on Dec. 15. The House bill was introduced by Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa., District 8).
Both of Georgia’s senators, Republicans Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Iskason, voted against repeal. Chambliss spoke on the floor before the vote in opposition, citing the ongoing military operations in the Middle East as the reason for his resistance.
“Should it be done at some time?” Chambliss asked. “Maybe so, but the middle of a military conflict is not the time to do so.”
Georgia’s members of the House of Representatives split largely on party lines.
Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) spoke in favor of repeal on the House floor before the Dec. 15 vote.
“I have two words. Vote yes,” Lewis said. “Vote yes for equality. Vote yes because discrimination is wrong!”
Lewis voted in favor of repeal along with four other Democrats who represent Georgia in Congress: John Barrow, Sanford D. Bishop, Hank Johnson and David Scott.
He was joined by all of Georgia’s Republican House delegation, which includes Paul Broun, Phil Gingrey, Jack Kingston, John Linder, Tom Price, Lynn Westmoreland and Tom Graves.
Shift in priorities
Many gay rights organizations pushing for repeal will need to find new missions after the legislative victory.
Alejandro Lopez, president of the Georgia Chapter of American Veterans for Equal Rights, said that his organization will now focus more on gay and lesbian veterans and services available to them once repeal takes effect.
“Now that the scales have shifted, we’re going to reach out to gay veterans,” Lopez said. “Hopefully, they’ll come out of the shadows to seek benefits. So many have stayed away because they felt they’d be denied or outed.”
Ty Walrod, co-director of civilian operations for OutServe, said his organization would continue the fight for equality in the military and expects rapid growth.
“Our role in the future will be to provide family services for gay and lesbian soldiers,” Walrod said.
Top photo: President Obama and military leaders must still certify that ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ can be repealed without hurting the armed forces. (Courtesy White House)
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