Senate Paves Way for End of Military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell“

Senate Paves Way for End of Military

Editor’s Note: By a vote of 65-31, the Senate on Saturday voted to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the Clinton-era policy that prohibited gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. The bill now heads to President Obama who is expected to sign it into law. This report will be updated shortly.

Washington — The military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy toward gays moved a critical step closer to repeal Saturday as the Senate voted 63-33 to cut off debate on the legislation.

The House of Representatives voted Wednesday to approve ending the 17-year-old ban on gays serving openly in the military, and the overwhelming Senate vote is a strong signal that it’s close to being overturned.

Six Republicans — Mark Kirk of Illinois, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, George Voinovich of Ohio, Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine — joined 55 Democrats and two independents in backing the measure.

If the bill is passed, which is expected by Sunday night, President Barack Obama is expected to sign it. The Pentagon would then consider how it could be implemented, and officials have said they will move expeditiously but carefully.

Though Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have backed repeal, some military service leaders have been opposed.

Pentagon officials have said the new policy would take effect only after policies were put in place that would not harm morale and recruiting.

Still, many were not convinced that allowing gays to serve openly would work.

The Defense Department earlier this month reported that in an eight-month study of more than 115,000 military personnel, 70 percent said ending the ban on gays serving openly would have a positive or neutral impact.

But combat unit personnel were more skeptical, as 58 percent of Marines and 48 percent of Army respondents said ending the ban would have negative consequences. A substantial minority also said repeal could affect morale, training and whether they would stay in the military. Marines voiced the loudest opposition, the survey found.

“I’d like a little less ambiguity,” said Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, “before doing something this significant in the middle of two wars.”