The U.S. House took historic action on Thursday by voting in favor of a measure that would put an end to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law prohibiting openly gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans from serving in the U.S. military.
Lawmakers approved the amendment, sponsored by Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), by a 234-194 vote after hours of discussion on whether Congress should repeal the statute.
Five Republicans voted in favor of repeal: Reps. Charles Djou (R-Hawaii), Joseph Cao (R-La.), Judy Biggert (R-Ill.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Ron Paul (R-Texas). Joining other Republicans to vote against the measure were 26 Democrats.
In remarks on the floor, Murphy, an Iraq war veteran, said repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is necessary because the policy compromises national security and has cost the American taxpayer more than $1.3 billion.
“When I served in Baghdad, my team did not care whether a fellow soldier was straight or gay,” he said. “With our military fighting two wars, why on earth would we tell over 13,500 able-bodied Americans that their services are not needed?”
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also spoke out in favor of the amendment and said passing repeal was a means of honoring the service of members of the armed forces.
“Today, by repealing the discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy, we also honor the service and sacrifices of all who dedicated their lives to protecting the American people,” she said. “We honor the values of our nation, and we close the door on fundamental unfairness.”
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) was among those speaking out against the repeal amendment on the floor, but his remarks were limited.
After reading an April 30 letter from Defense Secretary Robert Gates urging Congress to hold off on repeal, Skelton said “I oppose the amendment.”
Following the vote, Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement that the approval of the measure means House members are standing “on the right side of history.”
“This is a historic step to strengthen our armed forces and to restore honor and integrity to those who serve our country so selflessly,” he said.
The vote in the House means repeal language is in both the House and Senate versions of defense authorization legislation. Earlier in the day, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted in favor of attaching repeal as part of its version of the bill.
In debate over the amendment, lawmakers who supported it advocated for its passage as a means to end discrimination, while opponents said the Pentagon study on the issue — due December 1 — should first be complete.
Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) was among those urging other House members to vote in favor of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“Anyone who’s willing to put on this country’s uniform and put his or her life on the line to protect our freedoms deserves our respect and should not be subject to discrimination,” he said. “Repealing this flawed policy is an important way for us to show that respect.”
Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, provided some of the strongest objections to passing the repeal measure.
He said he wanted the Pentagon working group to complete its work in soliciting the input of U.S. service members before any action from Congress.
“After making the continuous sacrifice of fighting two wars over the course of eight years, the men and women of our military deserve to be heard,” McKeon said. “Congress acting first is the equivalent of turning to our men and women in uniform and their families and saying your opinions don’t count.”