Joy as 'Don't ask, don't tell' policy repealed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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
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

Ampersand Consulting LLP: 3rd Line Support Engineer (Windows Server, Exchange Server)

£35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: 3rd Line Support Engine...

Investigo: Finance Analyst

£240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

Ampersand Consulting LLP: Server / Infrastructure Engineer (Exchange, Windows, VMware)

£32000 - £38000 per annum + Bonus and Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Serv...

Ampersand Consulting LLP: Virtualisation / Cloud Infrastructure Engineer (VMware, Cloud)

£38000 - £44000 per annum + Bonus and Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Virt...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum