House OKs repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’

Gays serving in military could be candid about issue

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Congress was moving on two fronts late Thursday with legislation to repeal a Clinton administration-era law that bans gays from serving openly in the military.

The Senate Armed Services Committee approved a measure to lift the controversial 1993 “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, setting up a full vote in the Senate later.

The panel passed the measure on a near party-line vote of 16-12. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine was the only Republican to support the proposal, while Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia was the lone Democratic dissenter.

Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat and the panel chairman, said he was confident the proposed repeal would pass the full Senate, where 60 votes likely would be needed. Some Capitol Hill Democrats already have stated reservations.

Across the Capitol, a similar version passed late Thursday by a 234-194 vote. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said passing the measure was a matter of national security and vital to troop morale and “unit cohesion.”

Conservative religious groups have condemned the proposal, while gay rights groups have praised it and pushed for quick congressional action.

Opponents say the 17-year-old policy has worked and that lawmakers should await the findings of a Pentagon review of the policy before changing it. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates ordered the study, due Dec. 1, at the request of President Obama.

“One of the few things President Clinton got right was his decision to sign the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy into law,” said Rep. Steve King, a conservative Iowa Republican. “This is not the time to subject our fighting forces to a rushed and risky experiment in social engineering.”

Mr. Webb, a Vietnam War veteran, said it would be “disrespectful for the men and women serving” to repeal the law before the Pentagon finished a study of the issue.

“I just don’t think this is the proper way to move forward,” he said.

But several Capitol Hill lawmakers supportive of the policy this week threw their support to the proposal, a compromise between the White House and Defense Department, because it would delay the repeal until the Pentagon’s study is finished and then give the military as much time as it wants to make good on implementation.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, who supports the proposal, said that waiting for the Pentagon study isn’t necessary because its focus is on how best to repeal the policy, not whether it should be repealed.

“The ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy doesn’t serve the best interests of our military and it doesn’t reflect the best values of our country,” Mr. Lieberman said.

The Obama administration initially had hinted it would prefer waiting for legislation until after the Pentagon’s report is finished. But with the House and Senate working this month to complete their annual defense authorization bills, Capitol Hill Democrats saw an opportunity to repeal the policy by attaching it as an amendment to the must-pass $760 billion bill. 

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