Updated 12/18/10 – 2:53 p.m. WASHINGTON (CBS/AP) – New Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk has broken with his party to support repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on gays in the military.
In a landmark for gay rights, the Senate on Saturday voted to let gays serve openly in the military, giving President Barack Obama the chance to fulfill a campaign promise and repeal the 17-year policy known as “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Obama was expected to sign it next week, although the change wouldn’t take immediate effect. The legislation says the president and his top military advisers must certify that lifting the ban won’t hurt troops’ fighting ability. After that, there’s a 60-day waiting period for the military.
“It is time to close this chapter in our history,” Obama said in a statement after a test vote cleared the way for final action. “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.”
Kirk was one of eight Republicans to break ranks in a 65-31 vote to repeal the policy. The House had passed an identical version of the bill, 250-175, on Wednesday.
Repeal would mean that, for the first time in American history, gays would be openly accepted by the military 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.
A spokesman said two days ago that Kirk was still undecided on the issue.
But Kirk said in a statement Saturday that he supported repeal based on a recent Pentagon study that concluded the ban could be lifted without hurting the ability of troops to fight.
Earlier, Kirk, as expected, voted with Republicans to prevent a Senate vote on the DREAM Act.
Senate Republicans have blocked a bill that would give hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children a chance to gain legal status if they enroll in college or join the military.
Sponsors of the DREAM Act needed 60 Senate votes to advance the bill, but fell five short.
(TM and © Copyright 2010 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS Radio and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)