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In historic vote, Senate moves to end 'don't ask, don't tell'

Eight Republicans joined Democrats to vote for an end to the 1993 'don't ask, don't tell' law banning gay troops from serving openly. Proponents compare it to ending racial segregation in the military.

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“Seventy percent of the surveyed members believe that the impact on their units would be positive, mixed or of no consequence,” he added, during Saturday’s floor debate. “While combat units expressed more concerns about the consequences of repeal, those concerns disappeared for troops who have worked with a gay or lesbian coworker.”

But the top Republican on the panel, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and other GOP critics criticized the Pentagon’s survey for focusing on implementation of repeal of the ban, not on whether repeal was in fact good policy.

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“The Marine Corps Commandant has said he believes that changing this policy this way would cause distraction among the Marine Corps to the point that he is worried about increased casualties,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina, citing recent comments by Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos.

“From the Marines I talked to, he simply reflected what members of the Corps are going through,” said Sen. Pat Roberts (R) of Kansas, a former Marine who voted against repeal, in an interview. “Marines are different. We fight in very close combat units. This is going to result in some very bad situations that could have been avoided, if we had taken it on a step-by-step basis.”

Sen. Jim Webb (D) of Virginia, also a Marine Corps veteran, responded from the floor, that the issue was not whether there should be gays and lesbians in the military.

“They are already there,” he said, adding that the issue is not whether the policy will lead anyone to engage in inappropriate conduct.

“We will not allow that and we will be very vigorous in our oversight of the Department of Defense to make sure that does not occur,” he said, noting that the Pentagon has committed to “a sequenced implementation” of the new policy for different units in the military.

Today’s vote fulfills a campaign pledge of the last two Democratic presidents.

President Clinton campaigned in 1992 to “lift the ban” on homosexuals serving in the military, but Congress balked. The theme of “gays in the military” also set off a firestorm of protest among some Christian conservative groups, talk radio, and within the military, and it became virtual shorthand for the woes of Clinton’s first year in office.

In July 1993, the Clinton administration proposed “don’t ask, don’t tell,” as a compromise policy, which Congress voted into law in November.

But social conservatives have been largely out of the latest fight on repeal of the ban. The activists who lobbied lawmakers outside the Senate chamber today were all human rights activists committed to repeal.

“The conservative groups are not here because they’re going to lose,” said David Smith, vice president of the Human Rights Campaign, the largest gay and lesbian civil rights group. “Public attitudes have shifted. There are people on the front lines in combat who know gay and lesbians in the ranks. Eighty percent say there’s no problem.”

'Don't ask, don't tell': Can military handle a repeal of gay ban?

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