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House of Representatives and Senate Pass Repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

Following months of wrangling and conjecture, both chambers of Congress passed The Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010 (H.R. 2965) in December 2010, paving the way for gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military. The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy that ordered the discharge of gay men and lesbians in the military for either personally revealing their sexual orientation or having their sexual orientation disclosed by another servicemember was instituted in 1993. At least 13,500 servicemembers have been discharged under DADT, including some with vital skills such as speaking Arabic or Farsi, at a cost to taxpayers that has been estimated as high as $370 million.[1]
The intense campaign to repeal DADT in 2010 began in earnest when President Barack Obama declared his intention to lead efforts to eliminate the policy in his first State of the Union address on January 27. Following a year of hearings and studies, tireless efforts by advocates on both sides of the issue, guarantees of support or vows of opposition from legislators, the Senate twice failed to overcome a Republican-led filibuster of the  National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011 (S. 3454), which included a measure to repeal DADT that previously had passed the House of Representatives. 
After the tactic of including the repeal in the Defense Authorization was deemed untenable, a bi-partisan effort to pass the bill in the waning days of the 111th Congress began, shepherded by Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), as well as House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and outgoing Representative Patrick Murphy (D-PA). On December 16, the House of Representatives voted 250–175 in favor of stand-alone legislation to repeal DADT.[2] The Senate followed suit on December 18, with 65 Senators voting to end the discriminatory policy.[3]  
Gay men and lesbians still may risk facing discharge if they choose to reveal their sexual orientation at present, as “the ban will not be formally lifted until after Obama and top military leaders report to Congress that they have reviewed the findings of the Pentagon review about the ban, released last month.”[4] In addition, the Department of Defense must “draft policies and regulations to stop enforcing [DADT]” and “[t]hose changes must not affect troop readiness, cohesion or military recruitment and retention.”[5]
President Obama is expected to sign the legislation on December 22, 2010 during a ceremony at the Interior Department.[6]
“All of us at SIECUS appreciate the dogged bipartisan effort to repeal this failed policy. We commend our colleagues and the men and women who have served, and are serving, our county, that have made the momentous passage of this legislation possible,” said Jen Heitel Yakush, director of public policy at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). “‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was a policy that was detrimental to our national security and damaged the lives of far too many gay men and lesbians who were brave enough to volunteer to defend our freedom, but found that goal unattainable on the basis of their sexual orientation. We are confident that this change will result in a stronger, more just military.”

[1] Verena Dobnik, “Gays celebrate repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’” Washington Post (19 December 2010), accessed 21 December 2010, <>; Lawrence J. Korb, Sean E. Duggan, and Laura Conley, Ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” (Washington, DC: Center for American Progress, 2009), accessed 21 December 2010, <>, 12. 

[2] Ed O’Keefe, “House votes again to end ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’” Washington Post (16 December 2010), accessed 21 December 2010, <>; Perry Bacon, Jr. and Ed O’Keefe, “House again to end ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’” Washington Post (28 March 2010), accessed 21 December 2010, <>.

[3] “Senate roll vote to repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’” Washington Post (18 December 2010), accessed 21 December 2010, <>.

[4] Ed O’Keefe, “‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ is repealed by Senate; bill awaits Obama’s signing,” Washington Post (19 December 2010), accessed 21 December 2010, <>.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Lolita Baldor, "Military will write rules on repeal of gay ban,” Washington Post (21 December 2010), accessed 21 December 2010, <>.