American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 18, 2010 - President hailed the Senate's vote today to repeal the law that banned gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military and expressed confidence the Defense Department can institute the new policy while maintaining military strength and readiness.
, during a rare Saturday session, voted 65 to 31 to overturn the so-called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that's been in effect since 1993.
"The Senate has taken an historic step toward ending a policy that undermines our national security while violating the very ideals that our brave men and women in uniform risk their lives to defend," Obama said in a statement issued after the Senate voted earlier today to break a filibuster and move forward to a vote on the bill.
"By ending 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' no longer will our nation be denied the service of thousands of patriotic Americans forced to leave the military, despite years of exemplary performance, because they happen to be gay," the president said. "And no longer will many thousands more be asked to live a lie in order to serve the country they love."
Obama said he's "absolutely convinced" that repeal of the law will underscore the professionalism of the world's best-led and best-trained fighting force.
"And I join the secretary of defense and the , as well as the overwhelming majority of servicemembers asked by the Pentagon, in knowing we can responsibly transition to a new policy while ensuring our military strength and readiness," he said.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and other military leaders repeatedly expressed a preference for legislative action – which they said would permit an orderly transition for the military – over having the law struck down by a court, requiring immediate compliance with the change and possibly creating different rules in different places.
Following the House's passage of the repeal Dec. 15, said a congressional vote would enable the Defense Department to "carefully and responsibly manage a change in this policy instead of risking an abrupt change resulting from a decision in the courts."
Defense officials said yesterday they were preparing for the law's passage. Clifford L. Stanley, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, is expected to issue a memo to inform the department of the change and explain timelines for its implementation.
Obama said today's decision recognizes that it's time to close one chapter in U.S. history and open another. "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," he said. "It is time to allow gay and lesbian Americans to serve their country openly."
Special Report: Don't Ask, Don't Tell
DoD Support Plan for 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'
Department Prepares for 'Don't Ask' Repeal