In an important vote on Saturday the U.S. Senate determined to end Don't Ask Don't tell, the ban on gays in the military. Don't head down to the recruiter's office with a rainbow flag just yet; the repeal won't go into effect just yet.
The House of Representatives passed a bill repealing DADT last week, but there were serious doubts about its fate in the Senate, which has in recent years required super-majorities to pass any legislation, majorities typically far in excess of either party's numbers in the chamber. But on Saturday the Senate came through with a 65 to 31 vote to pass the bill that has ended the 17-year-old policy of discharging any servicemember discovered to be gay.
Last week, hopes for repeal were all but lost when the Senate failed to act on a defense authorization bill that had DADT repeal attached to it as an amendment. When senators Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Susan Collins (R-Me.) offered a stand-alone bill in replacement, few experts or even politicians had much confidence that it would pass. But in the last few days before the vote momentum behind the bill began to gather. Said Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.), "I’m not here for partisan reasons. I’m here because men and women wearing the uniform of the United States who are gay and lesbian have died for this country, because gay and lesbian men and women wearing the uniform of this country have their lives on the line right now.” In fact, eight Republicans crossed the aisle to vote with Democrats for repeal.
President Obama has said that he will sign the bill next week. After he does, the heads of the military will work up a plan to implement the transition. And after that, there is still a 60-day waiting period. That means that it could be a while before gays are welcome at the recruiting office. But there's good news for those already in service: immediately following the vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid asked the Pentagon to immediately cease prosecuting DADT cases, something that only requires the order of the Secretary of Defense. And he has gone on record in favor of repeal. For gay men and women in uniform, this is a very big day.