Openly gay soldiers, sailors and airforce men and women are now allowed to fight for America, after a US Senate vote on Saturday.
The change of legislation won’t take immediate effect, but president Barack Obama is expected to sign one of his campaign promise into a law next week. (photo, from aljazeera.net)
This would repeal the 17-year policy known as “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
“It is time to recognise that sacrifice, valour and integrity are no more defined by sexual orientation than they are by race or gender, religion or creed,” Obama said in a statement.
The president and his top military advisers must first certify that lifting the ban will not hurt troops’ ability to fight, then the military would undergo a 60-day wait period.
When the final tally of the senate vote, 65-31 was announced, cheers erupted from several former members of the armed forces who had gathered in order to watch the Senate vote.
In San Francisco gays and lesbians in uniform celebrated the fact that they would be openly accepted by the US military and could acknowledge their sexual orientation without fear of being kicked out.
Several former members of the armed forces gathered to watch the Senate vote. And cheers erupted when the final tally of the senate vote, 65-31 was announced.
To supporters, the repeal signals a historic civil rights milestone.
For retired U.S Navy Commander Zoe Dunning, the Senate’s vote ended a long struggle that included two military discharge hearings after she announced she was gay. She was eventually allowed to remain in the Navy.
“After 18 years of working on this, I witnessed the end to this destructive policy and these are tears of joy, I’ve got to tell you,” she said.
The 1993 law forced gay men and women in the military to hide their sexual identity, and more than 13,500 service members have been dismissed because of their sexual orientation. Many of them have said that they hope to return to service.
Six Republican senators broke with their party on the procedural vote to let the bill move ahead, following a recent Pentagon study concluded that the ban could be lifted without hurting the ability of troops to fight.
A key player in wrangling some of the Republican senators to vote the repeal was Senator Susan Collins, from Maine.
“It was a difficult vote for many of them, but in the end, they concluded, as I have concluded, that we should welcome the service of any qualified individual who is willing to put on the uniform of this country,” she said, at a news conference following the vote.
Senator Joe Lieberman, Independent, speaking at the same news conference said that, “It was the right thing to do for our military, it was the right thing to do for our country.”
According to opponents of gays serving openly in the military lifting the ban would undermine order and discipline and harm unit cohesiveness, especially among combat troops.
Educate and prepare
The Pentagon now has an undetermined amount of time to educate service members and prepare for the policy change before it “certifies” repeal.
Following the vote, defence secretary Robert Gates said in a statement that he will begin the certification process immediately, but added that any change in policy won’t come until after careful consultation with military service chiefs and combatant commanders.
Until then the current law and policy will remain in effect.
“Successful implementation will depend upon strong leadership, a clear message and proactive education throughout the force,” he said.
The change was welcomed by Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff : “No longer will able men and women who want to serve and sacrifice for their country have to sacrifice their integrity to do so.”
The Palm Center, a research institute at the University of California in Santa Barbara, said at least 25 countries allow gays to serve openly in the armed forces, among them Britain, Canada and Israel.
In February, Mullen told a packed Senate hearing room that he felt the law was unjust, becoming the first senior active-duty officer in the military to suggest that gays could serve openly without affecting military effectiveness.
“No matter how I look at the issue,” Mullen said, “I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.”
Thanks to Mullen’s backing, Gates ordered a year-long study on the impact, including a survey of troops and their families.
Released on Nov 30, the study found that two-thirds of service members didn’t think changing the law would have much of an effect.