WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives Wednesday approved new legislation repealing the law banning gays and lesbians from serving openly in the U.S. military — a move that gives to momentum to efforts to overturn the 17-year-old ban.
The Pentagon hailed the 250-175 House vote in a statement and urged the Senate to pass the legislation, too, saying it would allow "the Department of Defense to carefully and responsibly manage a change in this policy instead of risking an abrupt change resulting from a decision in the courts."
Opponents of repeal blasted the House vote, which came after the Senate last week refused to consider an appropriations bill that included repeal.
"Today, the lame-duck House of Representatives ignored the pleas of seasoned commanders like Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos and many of our men and women serving on the front lines and instead chose to placate a key liberal constituency, insistent homosexual activists," Tony Perkins, the president of the conservative Family Research Council, said in a statement.
The bill's prospects were unclear in the Senate, which isn't expected to vote until next week, but promises by three Republicans to support the measure gave it at a chance of winning the 60 votes it needs to move forward. The three — Sens. Olympia Snowe of Maine, Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — all voted "no" on last week's 57-40 procedural vote.
Supporters of ending "don't ask, don't tell" believe that if repeal doesn't happen during the lame-duck session of Congress, then it is unlikely to be considered by the incoming Congress, which takes office Jan. 5. One of the sponsors of the repeal legislation, Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Pa., lost his reelection bid, and Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, the California Republican who will chair the House Armed Services Committee in the next Congress, opposes repeal.
In addition, the issue has split the military, with Gates and Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both favoring repeal, while the uniformed heads of the Army and the Marine Corps oppose it. A Pentagon study released earlier this month found that 70 percent of U.S. service members saw no harm from repeal, but that 48 percent of Army troops and 58 percent of Marines fear lifting the ban would have negative consequences.
On Tuesday, Amos reiterated his opposition to repealing the law in a briefing with reporters, saying the repeal would put Marines lives at risk by distracting them from combat.
"Mistakes and inattention or distractions cost Marines lives. That's the currency of this fight. I take that very, very seriously," Amos said. "I don't want to lose any Marines to the distraction. I don't want to have any Marines that I'm visiting at Bethesda (National Naval Medical Center, in Maryland) with no legs be the result of any type of distraction."
Roughly 13,500 service members have been forced to leave the military under the current law.
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