warning Hi, we've moved to USCANNENBERGMEDIA.COM. Visit us there!

Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Don't Ask, Don't Tell No More

Paresh Dave |
December 18, 2010 | 9:52 a.m. PST

Executive Producer

Defense Secretary Gates (left) didn't see eye-to-eye with Sen. McCain (right) about the repeal, but passage of Sen. Lieberman's bill (back center) now gives President Obama and Gates the power to bury the ban.
Defense Secretary Gates (left) didn't see eye-to-eye with Sen. McCain (right) about the repeal, but passage of Sen. Lieberman's bill (back center) now gives President Obama and Gates the power to bury the ban.

The U.S. Senate torched the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy on Saturday, as Congress' fully wrapped a legislative fire around the discriminatory policy and forwarded its ashes to President Barack Obama to bury.

For the better part of 17 years, gay, lesbian and bisexual military servicemembers and applicants could not be queried about or openly discuss their sexual orientation. The secrecy could end before spring.

By a vote of 65 to 31, the Senate moved to allow Obama to sign the legislation and then work with other military leaders to devise a plan to lift the ban against open service by gays. The ban could be lifted 60 days after that plan is certified. More immediately, the Pentagon can now suspend dismissals for people who violate the policy and end open investigations of people suspected of violating it.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said via Twitter Obama would sign the repeal next week.

The vote marks a second major victory for Obama this week before Democrats lose control of the House of Representatives in January and make it very difficult for him to succeed on most social issues. He signed into law Friday a deal that extends tax cuts for all Americans for two years, but the mood was tempered by the blockage Saturday morning of the DREAM Act in the Senate, which would have allowed students in the country illegally to eventually become legal residents.

The expected ratification of a nuclear arms reduction treaty as soon as Sunday would be the final piece of legislation that amounts to surprising success in a last-ditch Democratic lawmaking effort repeatedly threatened by Republican filibusters, their own internal party divisions and quickly evaporating time.

"It is time to close this chapter in our history," Obama said in a statement after Saturday morning's vote to end debate on the repeal. "It is time to recognize that sacrifice, valor and integrity are no more defined by sexual orientation than they are by race or gender, religion or creed. It is time to allow gay and lesbian Americans to serve their country openly."

The legislative repeal puts to rest a lawsuit brought by gay rights supporters moving its way through the federal court system. The Obama administration had been appealing a district court judge's ruling that Don't Ask, Don't Tell is unconstitutional because military leaders favored legislation rather than a court order bringing down the policy.

President Bill Clinton put the policy in place as a compromise with those who didn't want gays to serve in the military at all. Several gays had been brutally beaten and harassed, and Clinton saw the policy as a way to bring some peace to them. But in recent years, the American social climate has veered toward increased tolerance. Courts and legislatures have granted gays the right to marry in five states, with a similar legal battle ongoing in California. In all, eight states recognize same-sex marriage.

Though each of the 31 popular votes to allow gay marriage has failed, a Pentagon report found most servicemembers were okay with doing away Don't Ask, Don't Tell. The report concluded that repeal would pose no threat to armed forces' mission. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen backed the report. Various polls have found 60 to 80 percent of Americans--across all political ideologies--support repeal.

Opponents had argued lifting the ban would lead to disunion and animosity on the battlefield. They had also argued that those morally opposed to homosexuality would end up being deterred from service.

Nearly 14,000 servicemembers have been discharged for violating the ban. The Pentagon estimates about 4,000 people are dissuaded from joining the military or leave voluntary because of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Several Republicans who supported repeal didn't want the repeal to come before a vote on extending Bush-era tax cuts and without a long debate.

The repeal effort had to be resusciated last week by Sens. Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins because it was originally packaged in a major defense spending bill that failed to outlast a procedural vote needed to bring up a final vote. The pair introduced a bill focused solely on the repeal, which passed the House of Representatives 250 to 174 earlier this week.

The most recent sweeping civil rights victory relating to the military ocurred more than 62 years ago, when President Harry Truman ended racial segregation in the armed forces.

The UC Santa Barbara think tank that's been on top of military policy involving gays said Saturday in a statement that there's no reason to fear the stronger inclusion of gays.

"Research shows that moving quickly is one of the keys to a successful transition," Palm Center Director Aaron Belkin said. "If the President and military leadership quickly certify the end of ‘don't ask, don't tell,' they will ensure an orderly transition with minimal disruption."

A later statement said:

"We expect the Pentagon to shortly announce its demand for a lengthy period of training and education to prepare the troops for open gay service, possibly lasting though much of 2011, before repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell' can be certified... In fact, the Pentagon has the capacity to train the forces immediately, within a matter of weeks...Only three steps are needed to assure a smooth and quick transition to open gay service: an immediate executive order from President Obama suspending all discharges; a few weeks to put the new regulations in place; and following this, immediate certification to end ‘don't ask, don't tell.'"

Reach executive producer Paresh Dave here. Follow him on Twitter: @peard33.



Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Watch USC Annenberg Media's live State of the Union recap and analysis here.