The US House of Representatives has for the second time this year voted to dismantle the US military’s so-called “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, giving the Senate a final shot in the waning days of this Congress at changing a law that forces thousands of uniformed gays to hide their sexual orientation.
The strong 250-175 House vote on Wednesday propels the issue to the Senate, where supporters of the repeal say they have the votes, but it is uncertain whether they will have the time to get the bill to the Senate floor. It could be the last chance for some time to end the 1993 law that forbids recruiters from asking about sexual orientation while prohibiting soldiers from acknowledging that they are gay.
Democratic leaders in the Senate say they are committed to bring the bill to the floor before Congress adjourns for the year before Christmas. They are challenged by opposition from some Republicans.
No time has been set for a Senate vote.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, said after the House vote that there is clear evidence that an overwhelming majority of Congress wants to repeal the law.
“We are very quickly running out of days in this Congress,” Reid said in a statement. “The time for weeklong negotiations on amendments and requests for days of debate is over. Republican senators who favor repealing this discriminatory policy need to join with us now to stand against those who are trying to run out the clock on this Congress.”
Failure to overturn the policy this year could relegate the issue to the back burner next year when Republicans, who are far less supportive of allowing openly gay individuals to serve in the military, take over the House and gain strength in the Senate.
“Now is the time for us to act,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, adding that “[we should] close the door on a fundamental unfairness in our nation.”
Gaveling the end of the vote was Democratic Representative Barney Frank, one of the House’s few openly gay members.
Frank, in his floor speech, said it was “bigoted nonsense” that “the presence of someone like me will so destabilize our brave young men and women that they will be unable to do their duty.”
“This vote,” said Representative Patrick Murphy, also a Democrat and the Iraq War veteran who sponsored the bill, “is about whether we’re going to continue telling people willing to die for our freedoms that they need to lie in order to do so.”
Many Republicans, led by Senator John McCain of Arizona, argue that it would be a mistake for the military to undergo a major cultural change while the nation is fighting two wars.
Implementation of any new policy should begin “when our singular focus is no longer on combat operations or preparing units for combat,” said Representative Howard “Buck” McKeon, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee.