Joy as 'Don't ask, don't tell' policy repealed

After 17 years and 14,000 expulsions, US Senate finally rejects controversial ruling

The barriers to gays and lesbians openly serving in the US military were swept away at the weekend after the Senate voted by a convincing margin to repeal the deeply controversial "don't ask, don't tell" policy put in place by former president Bill Clinton 17 years ago.

The repeal, passed late on Saturday with support from eight Republican senators, was hailed by its supporters as the most important US civil rights achievement in decades, as important as the military's decision to end racial segregation in the 1950s and open its academies to women in the 1970s.

"This is the defining civil rights initiative of this decade," said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Service members 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."

In an email message of thanks to those advocates of the Bill repealing the ban, President Barack Obama pledged to sign it into law promptly. "I will never know what it feels like to be discriminated against because of my sexual orientation," he acknowledged.

The vote is an important step forward for the gay and lesbian movement though the fact that it was such a long time coming may not bode well for the other priorities on their agenda, like gay marriage.

The 65-31 vote spurred supporters of repeal to cheer and hug one another in the public gallery, aware that crushing disappointment had only been narrowly averted. Just days before, it had seemed that the Democrat-led drive to repeal the ban was doomed to failure and that its prospects for passage would only dim further with Republicans taking control of the lower chamber in January.

"We righted a wrong," declared Senator Joseph Lieberman, the former vice-presidential candidate who had spearheaded the push to pass the Bill in the Senate. "Today we've done justice." He said about 14,000 men and women had been expelled from the US military under the existing policy.

Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, said as the debate opened: "I don't care who you love. If you love this country enough to risk your life for it, you shouldn't have to hide who you are."

Introduced in 1993 at the start of the first Clinton administration, the "don't ask, don't tell" approach was meant as an improvement on the existing comprehensive ban on gays serving in the military. But civil rights advocates saw it as a form of government-sanctioned discrimination. It also put the US out of step with most of its allies, Britain included, which moved on from the issue long ago.

Opponents of the change included Senator John McCain, the former Republican presidential candidate and Vietnam veteran, who on other issues stands out as a party moderate. "I hope that when we pass this legislation that we will understand that we are doing great damage," he said.

Ending the policy was a key campaign pledge of President Obama and the delays and hiccups that preceded the weekend vote had infuriated the progressive wing of his party. "It is time to close this chapter in our history," Mr Obama said in a statement. "It is time to recognise that sacrifice, valour and integrity are no more defined by sexual orientation than they are by race or gender, religion or creed."

But Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary, and most of the US military's leadership had come round to supporting the change, in part because had Congress not acted to repeal it, the courts would almost certainly have forced them into it. On the orders of Mr Obama, the Commander-in-Chief, the Pentagon spent most of this year completing an exhaustive study on the likely impact of an end to the ban. The conclusions recently presented to Congress said it would be "minimal".

Mr Gates welcomed the Senate vote but warned that even after the signature of the Bill into law by the president it would be some weeks before the old restrictions were entirely lifted.

"I will approach this process deliberately and will make such certification only after careful consultation with the military service chiefs and our combatant commanders and when I am satisfied that those conditions have been met for all the services, commands and units," Mr Gates said.

Came out, thrown out

* One soldier for whom the repeal will have huge importance is Warren Arbury of Savannah, Georgia, a former army sergeant of seven years. Before he was kicked out of the US army in 2008, he served in Iraq as a nuclear and biological chemical specialist. He had kept his sexual orientation secret, but after a few months, decided to come out. "I made a decision that I was going to be honest with the people I worked with and I don't really think they were that surprised," he told the US television channel WTOC. This was however not what got him discharged, but rather a fellow soldier and former lover in legal trouble who told on him. He will re-enlist once the policy is abolished.

Bård Aune

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own