Senate Passes Historic 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Repeal

Stop insulting the military by suggesting they're not capable of overcoming base prejudice.

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The Senate voted overwhelmingly—65-to-31—Saturday to repeal the 17-year old ban on gays serving openly in the military. Eight Republicans joined 57 Democrats on the right side of history. President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law some time before Christmas.

Now it’s up to the military to actually enact it, and as my friend Steve Clemons points out, this will take a while. But now that the shouting is over and the talking points can be consigned to history’s dustbin, does anyone really think that the greatest military force in history will fail—or, really, break  a sweat—at the task?

[See a roundup of editorial cartoons about 'don't ask, don't tell.]

The eight Republicans voting in favor of the repeal included a few surprises, most notably North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, who had voted to support the GOP filibuster against the repeal. Burr, who won re-election just last month, spoke of a “generational transition” taking place in this country. “If the Republican from North Carolina is talking like this, opposition to homosexuality has, in some broader sense, lost its political juice,” Politico’s Ben Smith notes. Burr could make the vote because he was just re-elected. The other GOPer to support the filibuster but then flip was Sen. John Ensign, the scandal-ridden Nevadan who apparently hopes to win another term next year. He presumably made the vote in order to be re-elected. So it goes.

The other Republicans voting for repeal were Mark Kirk of Illinois, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, George Voinovich of Ohio, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Maine’s two moderates, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. Brown and Snowe, like Ensign, are up for re-election in two years.

John McCain, who had kept saying he would support a repeal when the military did right up to the point where the military actually did, went down swinging. Decrying the “liberal bastions of America” and “elite schools” and “salons of Georgetown,” he sounded rather like a sad caricature from another age. All that was missing was yelling for those damn gay kids to get off his lawn. Salons of Georgetown? Seriously?

[See photos of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.]

Newly installed West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin skipped the vote because—I’m not making this up—he had a Christmas party to attend. He too is up for re-election in 2012. In the Manchin, Ensign, Brown, and Snowe votes you can get a sense of where the “generational transition” has taken hold and where it is lagging. But Burr is right, it is inevitable.

Now the action moves to the Pentagon and the U.S. military installations around the world. I covered the military for a few years; I have friends who have served and who are now serving. I have enormous admiration for our armed forces and haven’t the slightest doubt that they will deal with this transition with their usual levels of skill and success. In fact I’m sometimes surprised that members of the military don’t take greater offense to the notion from their alleged friends that they’re not capable of overcoming base prejudices.

In the mean time not only did the U.S. Senate do the right thing, but by a 2-to-1 margin. This should come as no surprise. Such controversial votes tend not to be close as people scramble to be on the right side of morality when they see passage is inevitable.

  • See photos of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
  • Read more about national security and the military.
  • See editorial cartoons on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"