ByÂ Ed O’Keefe, The Washington Post
While opponents said repeal wouldÂ create a battlefield distraction that could endanger troops, supporters drew parallels to the military’s decision to end racial segregation in the 1950s and the admission of women to military service academies in the 1970s.
“This is the defining civil rights initiative of this decade,” said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. “Congress has taken an extraordinary step on behalf of men and women who’ve been denied their rightful integrity for too long.”
For decades, being gay was grounds for discharge, and tens of thousands of service members were forced out after their sexual identities were exposed. President Bill Clinton, who had hoped to end that ban, authorized “don’t ask” as a compromise in 1993. More than 13,000 troops have been discharged under the policy.
The years-long legislative debate over the policy came to an end Saturday as senators voted 65 to 31 to send the repeal legislation to President Obama, who campaigned on a pledge to eliminate the ban on gays serving openly. Eight Republicans joined 57 members of the Democratic caucus; four senators did not vote.
“It is time to close this chapter in our history,” Obama said later in a statement. “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.”
The vote came after anÂ exhaustive Pentagon review found that allowing gays to serve openly posed a “low risk” of disruption and that a large majority of troops expected that it would have little or no effect on their units.
Top Pentagon officials – who lobbied vigorously for repeal, in part because they feared that a court-ordered lifting of the ban would be far more disruptive – said Saturday that it would take months and perhaps longer to implement the new policy.
“We will be a better military as a result,” said Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
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