The Senate Armed Services Committee took a significant step toward overturning “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on Thursday by voting in favor of an amendment that would include repeal as part of defense budget legislation, according to sources.
On Thursday, various LGBT groups issued statements saying the Senate Armed Services Committee voted 16-12 in favor of attaching a repeal measure, sponsored by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), as part of the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill.
The proceedings of the Senate Armed Services Committee were closed to the public and so couldn’t immediately be verified.
According to sources familiar with the deliberation, Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Robert Byrd (D-W.V.) voted in favor of the amendment. They had told media outlets earlier in the week they were planning to vote in the affirmative.
Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) voted against the measure as he had earlier told the Boston Globe.
Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), who never made a public announcement indicating his position on the amendment, also voted in favor of the measure. Supporters of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal were expecting him to vote “yes.”
The sole Democrat who voted against the amendment was Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.). He had earlier told media outlets he sees no need to preempt the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” study currently at the Pentagon by voting in favor of repeal at this time.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) was the only Republican to vote in favor of repeal. Supporters of repeal were expecting her to be a “yes” vote on the amendment for some time.
While the Senate has taken action, the House has yet to attach similar language as part of its version of the defense budget legislation. The House is expected to take up the issue on the floor by Friday morning.
The legislative compromise adopted by the Senate committee would repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” only after the Defense Department completes its study on the issue at the end of the year.
Additionally, the president and Pentagon leaders would have to certify that repeal won’t undermine military readiness — and 60 days would have to pass after this certification.
The measure also notably lacks the non-discrimination language for gay, lesbian and bisexual service members that was found in standalone versions of repeal legislation.
In a statement, Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said the Senate committee approved “a historic roadmap” to open service.
Still, he cautioned gay, lesbian and bisexual service members against being open about their sexual orientation while serving in the armed forces.
“It is important for all gay and lesbian, active-duty service members, including the reserves and the national guard, to know they’re at risk,” Sarvis said. “They must continue to serve in silence under the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law that remains on the books.”
Sarvis said he’s hopeful Congress and the Pentagon would be able to finalize repeal by “no later than the first quarter of 2011.”
In another statement, Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the importance of the Senate vote “cannot be overstated.”
“This is the beginning of the end of a shameful ban on open service by lesbian and gay troops that has weakened our national security,” Solmonese said. “The stars are aligning to finally restore honor and integrity to those who serve our country so selflessly.”
Solmonese said Americans recognize that the sexual orientation of service members doesn’t matter so long as they “get the job done.”
“Those who wish to preserve discrimination in our military will continue to fight this progress but we will be there every step of the way to ensure that qualified men and women are allowed to serve their country, regardless of sexual orientation,” he said.
Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, also commended the Senate committee for what he said was taking historic action to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“This initial victory today in the Senate Armed Services Committee is an historic first step forward in the drive to finally get the onerous ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law off the books forever,” Nicholson said. “All of us who have served under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and who have been impacted by this law will remember this day as the beginning of the end for ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’”