US Senate blocks debate on gay military policy repeal

US soldiers in Afghanistan - 5 September 2010 Under current policy, gay people are expelled from the military if they reveal their sexual orientation

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US senators have rejected attempts to open a debate on a bill which included a provision allowing the repeal of the ban on openly gay military personnel.

Just 56 senators voted in favour of debating the defence authorisation bill, four short of the 60 required.

Gay people can serve in the military, but face expulsion if they reveal their sexuality. US President Barack Obama has promised to scrap the policy.

Democrats could still try again later this year to pass the legislation.

Reacting to the vote - which split largely along Republican-Democrat party lines - White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said: "We're disappointed at not being able to proceed on the legislation, but we'll keep trying."

The BBC's Paul Adams, in Washington, says the vote is a setback for Mr Obama, who had hoped to deliver on a campaign promise to repeal the law - known as "don't ask, don't tell".

The Pentagon is conducting a study into how repeal might be implemented, but Republicans, and many in the military, fear that it could damage morale at a time when the armed forces are fighting two wars, our correspondent adds.

Procedural tactic

Earlier, the only Republican senator to support repealing the law, Susan Collins, said she was withdrawing her support.

Gay people in the US military

  • President Clinton wanted to lift the ban on gay people in the military
  • After staunch opposition, compromise "don't ask, don't tell" policy passed in 1993
  • Between 1997 and 2008, 10,500 service members discharged under rules
  • President Barack Obama pledged to repeal the policy
  • Pentagon review announced in February 2010

Her vote was seen as the crucial 60th vote needed to limit debate and advance the bill in the 100-seat Senate.

In the event Democratic senators Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor both sided with Republicans to block the bill, while Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, also voted against the measure as a procedural tactic.

It is not clear how the Democrats intend to respond to this setback in the Senate, but it seems highly unlikely that President Obama will get his way on gays serving openly in the military before November's mid-term elections.

If the Republicans retake control of one or more houses of Congress, then the president may never get his way, our correspondent says.

'Distraction'

Defence Secretary Robert Gates and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, have said they support a repeal but want to move slowly on it so as to not damage morale.

Mr Gates has asked Congress not to act until the Pentagon finishes a study on the impact on the military of lifting the ban.

The Obama administration has said any repeal of the law would not be implemented until after the study, which is due on 1 December, is completed.

Most Americans now accept openly gay service personnel, according to a recent Gallup poll.

Mr Obama's nominee to take over command of the Marine Corps said on Tuesday that he opposed repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

In testimony to a Senate committee, General James Amos said letting gay people serve openly in the force could disrupt unit morale.

"I'm concerned that a change now will serve as a distraction to marines who are tightly focused at this point on combat operations in Afghanistan," he said in written testimony.

"In my personal view, the current law and associated policy have supported the unique requirements of the Marine Corps, and thus I do not recommend its repeal."

Thanks for your comments. Please read a selection below:

I currently serve in the US Armed Forces and I hope policy will remain in effect. It serves best to protect homosexual individuals and promotes equality. We have huge diversity ranging from political views, religious preferences, race, nationality. Military forms a unified unit where it all doesn't matter. It turns out we had gay individuals and they were treated no different. If you really want to serve your country, keep your personal stuff at home. Openly gay or openly preaching Christians or Muslims - discriminatory behaviours should not be tolerated as it damages uniformity and cohesion of the unit. People that we kicked out were more concerned with making selfish statements than enrich military strength.

Tom Winsiweski, New York

I am an active duty soldier in the US Army. The "Don't ask, don't tell" policy is now part of the culture of the military in general, it is much deeper than a policy. I fully support its repeal and abolishment but the general public, in the US and abroad, most likely does not understand how much this may affect the troops currently serving. It is wrong and completely unconstitutional to continue to enforce this policy, however it is part of the general theme of dishonesty that makes up the culture of the armed forces. If you are educated, hide it. If you are different, hide it. If you are gay, or even comfortable in your sexuality and straight, hide it. If you know who you are and have ambitions outside the army, hide that as well. Individuality and exercise of freedom take a giant step back in the US military, and that is the way most of its members like it, as wrong-headed as that may be. I would expect serious and malicious repercussions for anyone who expects that the repeal of this policy will make it okay to be who they are.

S, Fort Lewis, Washington

I understand that other countries have implemented policies allowing openly homosexual troops. I think scientific examination of the policies and effects in other militaries are in order before changing the policy in the US military. What I don't understand about the debate is the core issue which is never addressed even when I was in the military: sexual privacy. Men and women were not assigned to the same quarters because it was a matter of being allowed a safe space for bathing, sleeping, and changing clothes without having someone else staring, making sexual references, advances, etc. However, if homosexuals are allowed to openly express themselves, then either everyone has to have private quarters, or someone's sexual privacy will be violated. I say the only fair policies are either bunk everyone separately and allow open homosexuals, or bunk everyone regardless of sex or orientation together and allow open homosexuals, or to keep the current policy in force. By process of elimination, taking into account the cost-effectiveness and the morale standpoint, the current policy should stand.

Al, Portland, Oregon

With my partner serving our country, I've felt a sense of rejection by the country that's to be protecting the freedoms we're promoting around the world. This country isn't as free as we, or should I say, them as they say we are.

Derrick, Indianapolis, Indiana

My family has a history of serving the country through joining the military. Both my maternal and paternal grandparents have served as well as the majority of my uncles and aunts. I would love to serve my country in the same manner but am not willing to hide my sexuality. I am proud of who I am therefore I do not see it as a hindrance.

Jackie Rose, Grand Rapids

My experience as a gay woman serving in the US Army was that it was not a big deal to be gay unless they wanted to expel you for another reason. Then, and only then, was your sexual orientation brought up.

Kerri Crowder, Fairbanks

While I am not in the US military, I am a gay man and I think it is absurd that heterosexual soldiers would object to serving with openly gay fellow soldiers simply because they are gay. Gay servicemen and servicewomen enlisted to serve the nation, not to prowl for sexual connections. I say to those who are uncomfortable with gays in (or out) of the military: get over it, examine your own life, and let others be free to be whoever they are.

Scott Collie, Tyler, Texas

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