US Congress advances 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' repeal legislation

[JURIST] The US House of Representatives and the Senate Armed Services Committee [official websites] on Thursday advanced compromise legislation to repeal the military's "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy [10 USC s. 654; JURIST news archive], sending it to a vote of the full Congress. The compromise would prevent the repeal from taking effect until the completion of a review to determine what effects the repeal would have on military effectiveness, soldier retention, and family readiness. In order for the repeal to take effect after the review's completion, the president, secretary of defense, and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff must sign and transmit to congressional defense committees a certification stating that the review has been considered and the recommended policy changes have been implemented. The House voted 234-194 [roll call], to add the compromise as an amendment to the Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2010 [texts, PDF], and is expected to vote [CNN report] on the full bill on Friday. The Senate committee voted 16-12 in favor of the amendment. Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) [official website], a sponsor of the repeal, praised the committee vote, stating:

Today, the Senate Armed Services Committee took a historic step forward to strengthen our military effectiveness and to begin to end a discriminatory policy that dishonors those patriotic Americans who are willing to defend our country. [The] compromise amendment ... carefully accommodates the recommendations of the Pentagon working group and is consistent with the military’s standards of readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion, recruiting and retention. My strong belief is that if Americans seek to put their lives on the line to serve this blessed country of ours, we should not deny those patriots that opportunity because of their sexual orientation. The action which the Committee took today makes our country stronger and better.
Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) [official website], the lone Democratic committee member to vote against the amendment, described it as a preemption [press release] of the ongoing comprehensive review of the policy by the Department of Defense [official website], and could be construed as "disrespectful" by some members of the military. The addition of the amendment to the defense spending bill has prompted some Republican lawmakers to threaten to vote against the bill [The Hill report] in its entirety.

The Obama administration on Monday backed the proposal [JURIST report], despite earlier opposition to passing a repeal before the completion of a comprehensive review. Defense Secretary Robert Gates [official profile] had initially urged Congress to delay repealing the ban until the completion of the review, but has backed the amended repeal legislation [POLITICO report]. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen [official profile] has also backed the compromise legislation. A CNN poll [results, PDF] released Tuesday found that 78 percent of American adults believe that homosexuals should be able to serve openly in the military. In March, Gates announced changes to the enforcement [JURIST report] of the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy to make it more difficult to expel openly gay service members from the military. The repeal of the controversial "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy has been an important issue for President Barack Obama since he took office, and its inclusion in the State of Union Address [JURIST report] reaffirmed it as a top priority for the administration.

 

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