Yesterday, by an amazing 64-33 majority, the US Senate finally voted to end the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy. The President has promised to sign it next week, and will then promptly begin work on a policy to roll out the implementation.
Although that implementation must wait at least 60 days following delivery of the President's plan to begin, I think it is safe to say that last night's vote marked the beginning of the end to the last bastion of legal, open discrimination within the US Military. Let's be clear - this will not be the first time that gay men and women will serve in the US military. It will just be the first time they can do so without dishonoring and torturing themselves by lying to their friends and colleagues.
More than 90% of service members who believe that they are currently serving with gays and lesbians have stated that it had no impact on their morale, unit cohesion or ability to perform. Evidence from other countries which have long allowed gays to serve suggest that the transition towards open service is a gigantic non-event. Just as gays work and live openly alongside straights in every other walk of life, they will now be able to do so as members of the US armed forces.
In the end, the relatively large number of Republicans who voted for the repeal of DADT is a tribute to the integrity of those Senators. I am truly and unequivocally grateful to them. In the current Republican party, the tea party has proven their ability to defeat in primaries even well funded and popular Republicans who make any effort to work with Democrats in support of the country's best interest. Each of them had to be, therefore, very much aware that to some degree they were gambling with their jobs. So, let's take a moment to give them their due.
Thank you, Senator Collins of Maine - an especially strong advocate, who worked closely with Joe Lieberman to ensure that a standalone bill was put on the floor after DADT was initially defeated.
Thank you, Senator Murkowski of Alaska - who has already been a victim of Tea Party extremism, losing her primary and thus running as a write-in candidate last November. Thank you for not running scared from the bullies who tried to kick you down.
Thank you, Senator Brown of Massachusetts - who I was (you may recall) a little annoyed to see winning Ted Kennedy's old seat in the early part of this year, but who has been among the most moderate Republicans in the Senate from that point. A classic New England Republican, in fact. Like... my whole family. I wasn't sure they were still out there.
Thank you, Senator Snowe (also) of Maine.
Thank you, Senator Voinovich of Ohio.
Thank you, Senator Kirk of Illinois.
Thank you, Senator Ensign of Nevada and Senator Burr of North Carolina, both of whom (bizarrely) voted for the bill after initially voting AGAINST bringing the bill to a vote.
It's worth in particular noting the vote of Senator Burr - an old style Southern Conservative who NOBODY expected to vote for this bill. In fact, Senatory Collins, who was working to reach out to Republicans in this effort, didn't even bother to meet with him as she assumed he would be intractable. So why did he eventually vote for it?
Well, he says he did have concerns about the timing of making this change, but in the end:
“A majority of Americans have grown up at a time that they don’t think exclusion is the right thing for the United States to do,” Burr said, also noting, “It is not accepted practice anywhere else in our society and it only makes sense.”That's... bizarrely reasonable. There is indeed no other part of American society where it is currently acceptable to discriminate against people solely because of who they are. We allow (in fact, sometimes we require) convicted felons to serve in the military. There is literally nothing that you can do, short of being physically unfit, that is so terrible it makes you ineligible for service. Except loving someone of the same sex.
While we are tipping out hat to erstwhile enemies, I probably need to take this moment to do the painful duty of singling out former Democrat Joe Lieberman for a special Medal of Excellence in pushing this bill relentlessly, determinedly and with unshakeable conviction. It was Lieberman who, when the first version of the bill failed to gain cloture immediately girded up to get a new version expedited through committee. It was Lieberman who made sure the bill had Republican support, liaised with Nancy Pelosi about the timing of passage through the House, worked with Harry Reid to get it on the Senate calendar for a new vote and, in a final moment poignant moment, broke his longstanding and deeply held religious practice not to work on the Sabbath to shepherd the bill through the Senate on a Saturday vote. He decided that the opportunity to live the principles of his faith was more important, in this one case, than the duty to live up to the letter of it. I salute him for it.
I'm not sorry I called him a schmuck - because sometimes he acts like one. But today he was a mensch.
And finally, I want to once again give a round of applause to Harry Reid. The Leader has a lot on his plate lately, and frankly it would have been easy for him to find an excuse to not bring DADT back up for a vote - the packed schedule, the forthcoming Christmas break, the urgency of getting so much other vital legislation through (and here's hoping that we can find the couple more votes we still need to ensure passage of the vital START treaty...). But Reid made it clear he would keep the current Senate working until the voted on this bill - and that pressure undoubtedly move things along.
And President Obama... well, Obama has been the leader I thought he would be. He passed this bill in a stle that will be hard to reverse, easy to support, and will change America for the better and for good. By proceeding with an extensive study of the military's views, by bringing the top leadership of the military into the fold - including Bush appointee Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen - he made clear that this would be done with the suppor of and for the benefit of our services. And finally, by taking the painful decision not to rush this process but to dot every I and cross every T - even if it meant that, heart-breakingly, good men and women still had to suffer under this policy in the meantime....
He created change that wasn't as quick as we would have liked. Or as radical as we might imagine. But that we can absolutely, 100% believe in.