Editorial: Historic vote Saturday in favor of gay rights

Published 6:17 pm Sunday, December 19, 2010

Monday, Dec. 20, 2010

During a rare and historic Saturday session, the Senate voted 65-31 Dec. 18 to repeal “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” the military’s 17-year ban on openly gay troops. President Obama is expected to sign the legislation overturning the Clinton-era policy and clearing the way for the first time in American history for gays to serve openly in the armed forces without being kicked out because of sexual orientation. More than 13,500 service members were dismissed under the 1993 law. President Obama’s right, “It is time to close this chapter in our history. 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.”

Eight Republicans (Richard Burr of North Carolina, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, George Voinovich of Ohio, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, John Ensign of Nevada and Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine stood with 55 Democrats for a vote which could do for acceptance in the civilian world what President Harry Truman’s 1948 executive desegregation order did for equal racial treatment. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he welcomes the change. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., predicted, “We’ll someday look back and wonder what took Washington so long to fix it.”

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said it held “two excellent hearings to consider the final report of the working group that reviewed the issues associated with the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ That report concluded that allowing gay and lesbian troops to serve in the United States armed forces without being forced to conceal their sexual orientation would present a low risk to the military’s effectiveness, even during a time of war, and that 70 percent of the surveyed service members believe that the impact on their units would be positive, mixed or of no consequence at all. As one service member told the working group: ‘All I care about is can you carry a gun, can you walk the post.’ And in combat … the troops have told us that what matters is doing the job. Now we learned also during the course of our hearing that while predictions of problems after repeal were higher in combat units than among other troops, this commission found that difference disappeared among those who had actual experience serving on the front lines with gay colleagues. That is, experience is a powerful antidote to negative stereotypes about gay service members. And we learned that when our close allies Great Britain and Canada were preparing to allow open service by gay and lesbian troops, that there were concerns which totally disappeared after they changed their policy to allow service. That level of concerns in our allies’ armies was higher than the current level of concern in our troops. Both of those countries, and other allies like Israel, made the transition with far less disruption than expected, and their militaries serve alongside ours in Afghanistan with no sign that open service diminishes their, or our, effectiveness. I am here because of Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, the first ground-unit casualty of the war in Iraq. The first casualty in the war in Iraq was a gay soldier. The mine that took off his right leg didn’t give a darn whether he was gay or straight. We shouldn’t either. We cannot let these patriots down. Their suffering should end. It will end with the passage of this bill.”

Fourteen years of hate crime data gathered by the FBI shows gays and lesbians more than twice as likely to be violently attacked as Jews or blacks; more than four times as likely as Muslims; and 14 times as likely as Latinos.

Believing the Bible says homosexuality is a sin is not the same thing as suggesting they should die, as Clint McCance, vice president of the Midland School District in northern Arkansas, did in response to teen suicides. His Facebook postings suggested it would be good “if they all commit suicide.”

Right here in Michigan, we have had assistant state attorney general Andrew Shervell blogging to harass a gay student activist he dubbed “Satan’s representative.”

Even if President Obama signs the bill into law this week, changes in military policy will likely take months.

He and his top military advisers must first certify that lifting the ban won’t impair troops’ ability to fight.

Then, the military undergoes a 60-day wait period.