In a historic vote for gay rights, the Senate agreed on Saturday to do away with the military’s 17-year ban on openly gay troops and sent President Barack Obama legislation to overturn the Clinton-era policy known as “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
“It is time to close this chapter in our history,” Obama said in a statement. “It is time to recognize that sacrifice, valor and integrity are no more defined by sexual orientation than they are by race or gender, religion or creed.”
The vote was a relatively overwhelming 65-31. I say relatively because it ought to be 100-0 (or apparently 96-0), but the fact that 8 Republican’ts actually did something right makes this overwhelming. It isn’t like them to do the right thing. For example:
Sen. John McCain, Obama’s GOP rival in 2008, led the opposition. Speaking on the Senate floor minutes before a crucial test vote, the Arizona Republican acknowledged he couldn’t stop the bill. He blamed elite liberals with no military experience for pushing their social agenda on troops during wartime.
“They will do what is asked of them,” McCain said of service members. “But don’t think there won’t be a great cost.”
This is the same guy who said he would always ask those he commanded what they thought he ought to do. “Do you want to go out and attack the enemy? No? Why, that sounds like good ol’ fashion American values!” But maybe it’s just my elite liberal eyes that make me question if that fits the definition of leadership.
The repeal of this discriminatory law is the most significant federal civil rights legislation in decades. Far from being another meaningless lame duck session, this Congress has made a difference in both the effectiveness of our military and in the personal well-being of real, living human beings who matter. But while DADT is discriminatory, it cannot be overlooked that it was an important stepping stone. As frustrating as it is to approach civil rights in such a piecemeal fashion, that’s just how it often is. Just as Thomas Jefferson made the first step towards ending slavery by putting an end to the slave trade in 1808, Bill Clinton made the first step that has led us to where we fortunately stand today. As Adm. Mike Mullen said:
“No longer will able men and women who want to serve and sacrifice for their country have to sacrifice their integrity to do so,” he said. “We will be a better military as a result.”