IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Senate to vote again on military gay ban

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he will call for a vote after Thanksgiving on legislation that would allow gays to serve openly in the military.
Dan Choi
Dan Choi, seventh from left, an Iraq War veteran and a West Point graduate who was discharged from the military in July because he announced publicly that he is gay, is handcuffed along with others as they protest earlier this week at the north gate of the White House in Washington, D.C.Charles Dharapak / AP
/ Source: news services

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Wednesday that he will call for a vote after Thanksgiving on legislation that would allow gays to serve openly in the military.

His announcement makes good on his pre-election promise to resurrect during the lame-duck session legislation that would repeal the 1993 law known as "don't ask, don't tell."

But it remains far from certain whether the legislation would have enough votes to pass. Several leading Republicans, including Sen. John McCain, have said they oppose lifting the ban.

"We need to repeal this discriminatory policy so that any American who wants to defend our country can do so," Reid said in a statement.

Reid's message came as President Barack Obama and senior White House officials urged top lawmakers Wednesday to pass a repeal measure this year.

Obama has pledged to do away with the policy, adopted in 1993.

A measure to end the ban cleared the House of Representatives but stalled in the Senate.

The legislation would allow for the first time gay troops to acknowledge publicly their sexual orientation. However, the repeal of the current law would take effect after the president and his top military advisers certify that doing so would not hurt the military's ability to fight.

The bill was considered a deal struck earlier this year between more liberal Democrats eager to change the law and the White House, under pressure by the Pentagon to give it more time to determine how to repeal the law without causing any backlash.

The provision is tucked into a broader defense policy bill that includes such popular programs as a pay raise for the troops, which gay rights groups hoped would help its chances of passing.

But when the bill reached the floor in September — just weeks before the midterm elections — Republicans united in objecting to its debate on procedural grounds. Reid insisted that few amendments be considered in the interest of time; Republicans said restricting debate on such a wide-ranging policy bill was unfair.

Jim Manley, a spokesman for Reid, said Wednesday that it had not been decided yet how many or which amendments might be considered for debate.

A wild card in the upcoming debate will be a Pentagon study on gays in the military that is likely to be released just days before the Senate vote. Last February, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he supports an eventual repeal of the law but wanted time to figure out how it should be done. He ordered a 10-month study due Dec. 1.

A draft of the 370-page assessment has found that the ban could be lifted with little harm and that most troops don't object to the change in personnel policy, according to officials familiar with its findings. But it also found that some troops had serious concerns with repealing the law.

Military officials have warned that even scattered resistance to the change could pose logistical and discipline problems for field commanders.

A White House spokesman said Obama called Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of a Senate committee on armed services, to reiterate his support for the measure being passed by the outgoing Congress before the end of the year.

"The president's call follows the outreach over the past week by the White House to dozens of senators from both sides of the aisle on this issue," the spokesman said.

Levin, who has been leading the repeal push in the Senate, said he had asked Reid for a vote after the Pentagon study is released and he has a chance to hold hearings on the issue in the first few days of December. Levin, D-Mich., chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee.

A spokeswoman for McCain, R-Ariz., did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Log Cabin Republicans, a national gay and lesbian advocacy group, won a lower court ruling in October that barred the Pentagon from enforcing the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy but an appeals court put the decision on hold. The U.S. Supreme Court later rejected a request to lift the appeals court stay.

Gay rights groups see the lame-duck session as their best chance at repealing the law. The House has already passed the bill. But come January when the new Congress is seated, Republicans will take control the House and the Democratic majority in the Senate will be narrowed by six seats.