The U.S. Senate struck a blow for equal rights on Saturday by repealing the 17-year ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military. The 65-31 vote will make it much easier for untold numbers of men and women who want to serve their country to do just that without having to lie about their sexual orientation.
On the same day, however, the Senate crushed the hopes of hundreds of thousands of young people here illegally through no fault of their own. The Dream Act, which would create a path to legal status for illegal student immigrants, was rejected by the Senate, 55-41, in a vote to bring it to the floor for debate.
The U.S. House has already approved both measures, so the death of the military's ``don't ask, don't tell'' policy is certain, while the Dream Act remains in limbo -- as does the fate of the young adults, brought here illegally as children, who want to graduate from college or serve in the military as a way to earn legal status. While enough GOP senators -- eight -- supported the repeal, only three voted for the Dream Act.
So, ironically, the Senate opened the door to military service for one group while slamming it shut for another. Let's hope this isn't the end of the Dream Act. It will have a tougher sell in 2011 when the Republicans take over the House and increase their numbers in the Senate.
That said, the ``don't ask, don't tell'' repeal is a win-win for everyone. Since its inception in 1993 during the Clinton administration, the policy has forced more than 13,500 service members to leave the military. Some were much-needed Arabic translators. Many served honorably in both Afghanistan and Iraq. They were treated like second-class citizens rather than honored and respected for service to their country.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a holdover from the Bush administration and a supporter of the repeal, has said that the change won't be put in place until the planning needed to create an orderly transition is complete.
The new law requires the president, the defense secretary and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to jointly determine that policies are in place to carry out repeal ``consistent with military standards for readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion and recruiting and retention.'' Then another 60 days must pass before the change goes into effect.
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