House votes to repeal military gay ban

By Phil Stewart

WASHINGTON (BestGrowthStock) – Lawmakers in both chambers of the Congress took steps on Thursday toward repealing a ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the U.S. military, a goal championed by President Barack Obama.

The House of Representatives voted 234-194 to approve an amendment aimed at ending the Clinton-era “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that allows homosexuals to serve in secret but expels them if their sexual orientation becomes known.

Visitors cheered in the House galleries after the vote, which followed similar action by a Senate panel a few hours earlier. There are still several more legislative steps before the change can become law.

“With our military fighting two wars, why on earth would we tell over 13,500 able-bodied troops that their services are not needed?” Representative Patrick Murphy argued before the House voted on the amendment to a defense policy bill.

Murphy, formerly in the U.S. Army, was the first veteran of the Iraq war to serve in Congress. He sponsored the House amendment.

“It’s time for this policy to go. It doesn’t reflect America’s best values for equal opportunity and it is not good for the military,” independent Senator Joseph Lieberman, a member of the Armed Services committee, said after the panel voted 16-12 to change the law.

President Barack Obama said he was pleased with the vote.

“This legislation will help make our Armed Forces even stronger and more inclusive by allowing gay and lesbian soldiers to serve honestly and with integrity,” he said in a statement.

Even if Congress gives final approval to such bill, repeal also would require certification from Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, that the new law would not have a negative impact on readiness, unit cohesion, recruitment and troop retention.

The Pentagon also needs to complete a review on how to implement the repeal, due by December 1.

Ending the 17-year-old ban would be a major victory for Obama and for gay rights advocates who supported his 2008 presidential campaign.

DIVISIVE ISSUE

But it is also a political issue that has long divided the U.S. military. Opposition Republicans, gearing up for congressional elections in November in which they are expected to make gains, accused Obama of using the U.S. armed forces to engage in a “social experiment.”

“Is this the sort of thing that George Washington or our founders would be proud of?” asked Republican Representative Todd Akin in the House debate. “I will not betray my children or our armed services people just for mere politics.”

Republicans criticized Obama’s Democrats for failing to wait until completion of the Pentagon study.

“We’re dissing the troops, that’s what we’re doing. We’re disrespecting them,” said Representative Howard McKeon, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee.

Recent polls show most Americans support the repeal of the 1993 ban, but opponents fear it could increase strain on a military already stretched by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Senator John McCain, Obama’s challenger in the 2008 election, pointed to copies of letters from the heads of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines saying they had wanted Congress to wait until the Pentagon completed its study.

Lieberman voiced confidence that the full Senate would sign off on legislation, saying: “We’ve got some momentum now.”

Murphy said: “When I served in Baghdad, my team didn’t care whether a fellow soldier was gay.

“We cared if they could fire their M-4 assault rifle or run a convoy down Ambush alley … do their job so that everyone in our unit could get home safely.”

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(Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro and Susan Cornwell; editing by Mohammad Zargham)

House votes to repeal military gay ban