Washington, Dec. 19: The US Senate has voted to strike down a ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military, bringing to a close a 17-year struggle over a policy that forced thousands of Americans from the ranks and caused others to keep secret their sexual orientation.
The vote marked a historic moment that some equated with the end of racial segregation in the military.
By a vote of 65 to 31, with eight Republicans joining Democrats, the Senate approved and sent to President Barack Obama a repeal of the Clinton-era law, known as dont ask, dont tell, a policy critics said was a government-sanctioned discrimination that treated gay, lesbian and bisexual troops as second-class citizens.
Obama hailed the action, which fulfils his pledge to reverse the ban, and said it was time to close this chapter in our history. As commander in chief, I am also absolutely convinced that making this change will only underscore the professionalism of our troops as the best-led and best-trained fighting force the world has ever known, he said.
It followed an exhaustive Pentagon review that determined the policy could be changed with only isolated disruptions to unit cohesion and retention, though members of combat units and the Marine Corps expressed greater reservations about the shift. Supporters of the repeal said it was long past time to abolish what they saw as an ill-advised practice that cost valuable personnel, and forced troops to lie to serve their country.
We righted a wrong, said Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, the Independent from Connecticut and a leader of the effort to end the ban. Today weve done justice.
I dont care who you love, Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, said as the debate on the repeal opened. If you love this country enough to risk your life for it, you shouldnt have to hide who you are.
The vote came in the final days of the 111th Congress as Democrats sought to force through a final few priorities before they turn over control of the House of Representatives to the Republicans in January and see their clout in the Senate diminished.
Republican Senator John McCain led the opposition to the repeal and said the vote was a sad day in history. I hope that when we pass this legislation that we will understand that we are doing great damage, McCain said. And we could possibly and probably... harm the battle effectiveness vital to the survival of our young men and women in the military.