Udall: Vote lifts cloud from gays who serve
Colorado’s two senators were among a sizable majority in the U.S. Senate that voted Saturday to repeal the controversial “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy concerning gays in the military.
U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, who was one of several cosponsors of the measure, said the policy put in place 17 years ago had long outlived its usefulness.
The two Democrats said the bill, which already had House approval and now heads to President Barack Obama’s desk, brings an end to a practice — forcing openly gay and lesbian service members out of their military jobs because of their sexual orientation — that is illegal in the private sector.
“I’m happy for those members of the military who will have this cloud lifted from over them,” Udall said in an interview. “We’ve got a clear policy now so that we don’t require men and women who want to fight for us to live a lie while they’re defending our very freedoms.”
Udall said Republicans tried to lead a filibuster to block the measure, but failed in that attempt after six GOP senators broke ranks and sided with Democrats to support the bill. It passed 65-31. The measure passed the House on Wednesday on a 250-175 vote.
The senator said he was pleased such a large group of senators from both sides of the aisle agreed to repeal the policy. He said, however, its demise was inevitable after so many successful efforts in legislatures across the country to add sexual orientation to states’ antidiscrimination laws against such things as employment and housing.
“The American people have been ahead of us,” Udall said. “The American people clearly are comfortable with judging people on the content of their character and the quality of their performance, not their creed or their race or, now, their sexual orientation.”
Udall pointed to a recent Pentagon study that showed about 80 percent of active duty personnel would have no problem with seeing the policy repealed.
But U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, a Republican who represents Colorado’s 6th Congressional District, said in a statement that study may not have gone deep enough into the military’s ranks to find out what service members really think about doing away with the policy.
“I’m concerned about the impact of reversing ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ on our combat forces at the tip of the spear,” said Coffman, a retired Marine major who served in both Persian Gulf wars. “According to the Defense Department study, the opposition to repealing ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ greatly increases when you move from the Air Force and the Navy to the Army and the Marine Corps, and it increases again as you separate ground troops from combat-support units.”
In a statement released shortly after the vote, Obama praised Congress for helping him make good one of his chief campaign promises, saying gay service members no longer will have to live a lie.
“It is time to close this chapter in our history,” Obama said. “It is time to recognize that sacrifice, valor and integrity are no more defined by sexual orientation than they are by race or gender, religion or creed.”
Udall said it was a shame about 14,000 service members had been forced to leave the military over the time the policy was in effect, which was put in place in 1993.
Gay and lesbian groups in Colorado and around the nation also praised the move, saying it’s a step in the direction toward treating homosexuals the same as heterosexuals.
Brad Clark, executive director of One Colorado, a gay and lesbian advocacy group, called the vote historic.
“For 17 years, gay, lesbian and bisexual soldiers have served in silence,” Clark said. “Thousands have been discharged and lost their jobs simply because of who they are. (Saturday’s) historic vote was a critical step in ending this discrimination.”
Clark is working with state Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, to get a bill approved by the Colorado Legislature next year to create civil unions for gay and lesbian couples.
Obama is expected to sign the bill into law next week, although changes to military policy probably wouldn’t take effect for at least several months. Under the bill, the president and his top military advisers must first certify that lifting the ban won’t hurt troops’ ability to fight. After that, the military would undergo a 60-day wait period.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.