CHICAGO (CBS) – The Senate may have voted 65 to 31 to repeal the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy this weekend, but the particulars allowing gays to openly serve in the military will take months to approve and implement. Still as CBS 2′s Vince Gerasole reports, those who’ve lobbied for change for years say the repeal is long overdue.
Marquell Smith looks back on the memories of what was a successful six-year career in the Marines. He admits he had to put aside many personal parts of his own life to do so, including his sexual orientation.
When his homosexuality was made public, Smith was discharged. In civilian life, the 29-year-old North Sider became an advocate to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the name of civil rights.
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“I vowed for every gay and lesbian still in uniform, I would fight,” said Smith.
The fight came to an end Saturday when the Senate voted to repeal the 17-year old policy and let gays serve openly in the U.S. military.
“When I was watching the TV, I did not believe it was really going to happen,” said Jim Darby.
In the 1950′s while serving in the Navy, Darby never mentioned his homosexuality. The Hyde Park activist for equal rights has even gone to jail protesting against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“It’s sad when you think of the numbers of people who were kicked out, whose lives were ruined,” said Darby.
The Commandant of The Marines has been very vocal about the distractions repeal could cause on the battlefield, leading to the loss of lives; opposition cited by senators voting against the change.
“It could disrupt unit cohesion and as the commandant says cost lives, that means a lot to me,” said Arizona Republican Senator Jon Kyl.
The legislation calls for the military to first certify lifting the ban will not threatening troop readiness, then wait 60 days to implement changes. It’s part of what convinced Illinois Republican Senator Mark Kirk to cross over and join with Democrats to support the measure.
“My friend called me yesterday and said, ‘does this mean I can come out?’ and I said, ‘not yet, wait at least a year,’” said Smith.
It’s the time necessary to sort out implementation of the repeal. But Smith is hopeful it will allow more to remember an honorable military career in which they served as long as they wanted.
Some 13,500 servicemen and women have been dismissed under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
President Obama is expected to sign the legislation into law next week.