In a historic vote for gay rights, the Senate agreed on Saturday to do away with the military's 17-year ban on openly gay troops and sent President Barack Obama legislation to overturn the Clinton-era policy known as "don't ask, don't tell."
Obama was 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.
Among the strongest voices in favor: Joe Lieberman. I'll give credit where it's due since I disagree with the man on virtually everything else. Oh, and the enigmatic Ben Nelson (NE) also.
Repeal would mean that, for the first time in American history, gays would be openly accepted by the armed forces and could acknowledge their sexual orientation without fear of being kicked out.
More than 13,500 service members have been dismissed under the 1993 law.
"It is time to close this chapter in our history," Obama said in a statement. "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."
The Senate voted 65-31 to pass the bill, with eight Republicans siding with 55 Democrats and two independents in favor of repeal. The House had passed an identical version of the bill, 250-175, earlier this week.
No Democrats voted against the measure; the 31 nays included both Texas senators Cornyn and Hutchison.
The 65 ayes included independent Lisa Murkowski and Republicans Scott Brown (MA), Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, John Ensign, Mark Kirk (IL), George Voinovich, and Richard Burr.
Deserving of specific reproach is West Virginia's Joe Manchin, who skipped the vote. Though Oregon's Ron Wyden -- just diagnosed with prostate cancer -- postponed some pre-surgical tests to cast a historic vote, Manchin had a Christmas party to go to.
Supporters hailed the Senate vote as a major step forward for gay rights. Many activists hope that integrating openly gay troops within the military will lead to greater acceptance in the civilian world, as it did for blacks after President Harry Truman's 1948 executive order on equal treatment regardless of race in the military.
"The military remains the great equalizer," said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. "Just like we did after President Truman desegregated the military, we'll someday look back and wonder what took Washington so long to fix it."
Sen. John McCain, Obama's GOP rival in 2008, led the opposition. Speaking on the Senate floor minutes before a crucial test vote, the Arizona Republican acknowledged he couldn't stop the bill. He blamed elite liberals with no military experience for pushing their social agenda on troops during wartime.
"They will do what is asked of them," McCain said of service members. "But don't think there won't be a great cost."
McCain's response is a profile in disgrace. I particularly like how he transmogrifies an issue supported by 70% of Americans as belonging to "liberal elites".
John McCain has reduced himself to Captain Queeg -- rolling ball bearings in one hand, mumbling about strawberries.
Also today, no DREAM will come true for the children of undocumented aliens.
Senate Republicans on Saturday doomed an effort that would have given hundreds of thousands of young illegal immigrants a path to legal status if they enrolled in college or joined the military.
Sponsors of the Dream Act fell five votes short of the 60 they needed to break through largely GOP opposition and win its enactment before Republicans take over the House and narrow Democrats' majority in the Senate next month.
President Barack Obama called the vote "incredibly disappointing."
"A minority of senators prevented the Senate from doing what most Americans understand is best for the country," Obama said. "There was simply no reason not to pass this important legislation."
Dozens of immigrants wearing graduation mortarboards watched from the Senate's visitors gallery, disappointment on their faces, as the 55-41 vote was announced.
"This is a dark day in America," said Jorge-Mario Cabrera, a spokesman for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in Los Angeles. "The Senate has ... thrown under the bus the lives and hard work of thousands and thousands of students who love this country like their own home, and, in fact, they have no other home."
Helping send the bill to defeat were five Democratic senators: Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Jon Tester of Montana, Max Baucus of Montana, David Pryor of Arkansas, and Nelson. Manchin, as previously mentioned, had other priorities. Three Republicans -- Bennett of Utah, Lugar of Indiana, and Murkowski -- voted in favor.
Lindsay Graham earns his dishonorable mention:
"To those who have come to my office — you’re always welcome to come, but you’re wasting your time.
We’re not going to pass the DREAM Act or any other legalization program until we secure our borders. It will never be done as a stand-alone. It has to be part of comprehensive immigration reform."
Go fuck your bigoted self, Senator.