The Senate Armed Services Committee approved a defense authorization bill with language that would repeal the ban on openly gay individuals serving in the military, handing gay-rights activists a major legislative victory Thursday.
The committee approved the bill by a vote of 18-10, after approving the “don’t ask, don’t tell” amendment, introduced by Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.), 16-12. Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) was the lone Republican to vote in favor of the amendment, while Sen. Jim Webb (Va.) was the only Democrat to vote against it.
“I see no reason to pre-empt the process that our senior Defense Department leaders put into motion, and I am concerned that many members of the military would view such a move as disrespectful to the importance of their roles in this process,” Webb said in a statement after the vote.
While Thursday night’s vote was a major victory for Democrats who have long sought to overturn the Clinton-era “don’t ask, don’t tell” law, passing a defense authorization bill with the Lieberman language could prove an uphill battle on the floor. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, has vowed to filibuster any measure that seeks to overturn “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and it remains unclear whether Democrats have the 60 votes needed to break such a stalemate.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) expected the House to approve the same language Thursday night, in an amendment to the defense authorization on the House floor. Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.) sponsored the proposal, which was crafted with Lieberman and Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and has the support of Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
The amendment would delay implementation of the policy change until after a Pentagon review is finished. It would also be contingent on certification from the president and top military officials that the repeal would not adversely affect military readiness.
The House is poised to pass the defense authorization bill by Friday. The measure should go before the full Senate soon after Members return from the weeklong Memorial Day break.