Don't Give Up on Repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell

It was hard to watch nearly all my Republican colleagues step into the well of the Senate and vote against the Defense Authorization bill yesterday, but not because I suddenly expected to see a break in their pattern of reckless obstructionism. Rather, it was hard because of the horrendous message the Senate was sending to our brave men and women in uniform and to each and every gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered American.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell is discrimination, plain and simple. Any American prepared to die for his or her country deserves our respect and admiration. Sexual orientation should not be a factor in determining one's right to serve.

We were closer to a repeal this week than we'd ever been, but just as they did when they blocked the unemployment insurance extension for millions of out-of-work Americans, Senate Republicans hijacked this issue as part of their war on progress. This, despite the fact that a repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell apparently has the support of super-majority of Senators, including at least three Republicans.

Thursday's vote didn't fail because a repeal was bad policy. It failed because, for Republicans, it was bad politics.

Refusing the funding our troops need in a time of war is unconscionable and distasteful. By blocking the Defense Authorization bill, Republicans have deprived our military of more than $700 billion in authorized funds for a pay-raise for troops, an extension of Tricare benefits, and needed equipment in Afghanistan and Iraq. While I'm hopeful that the Defense budget will eventually be authorized, the changing composition of the Senate and the House prevents me from saying the same about a repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell next year.

This is a critical, unique moment and though this opportunity is fleeting, it's not over yet.

I believe that a repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell deserves a chance at a straight up-or-down vote, safely protected from the crossfire of the debate over a potential extension of the Bush tax cuts.

That's what S. 4022 -- a standalone version of the repeal introduced by Senators Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins Thursday night -- aims to do. They believe, as I do, that separating Don't Ask Don't Tell from the larger Defense Authorization bill will give us a better chance of passing a repeal.

I was proud to join Senators Reid, Leahy, Gillibrand, Lincoln, and Mark Udall in co-sponsoring the Lieberman-Collins bill, which approaches the repeal in the reasonable, measured manner recommended by Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen last week while testifying before the Armed Services Committee. They both voiced support for a repeal and underscored the importance of giving the Pentagon the time it needs to implement this policy change in a deliberate, responsible manner.

Passage of S. 4022 would set in motion a series of steps designed to do just that. The repeal would be enacted 60 days after the President, Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify to Congress three things. First, that they have considered the Pentagon working group report on the impact of a DADT repeal. Second, that the Department of Defense has readied the necessary regulations for implementation and third, that the manner of implementation is consistent with the standards of military readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention.

Congress wouldn't dictate a timeline for obtaining that certification, but rather this bill gives our military leaders the time they need to ensure a smooth execution of the repeal.

That preparation time would likely not be so generous -- if any was granted at all -- if a federal judge orders the repeal because Congress chose not to act before going home for the holidays. Secretary Gates, Admiral Mullen, and all five service chiefs were unanimous last week in warning against a court decision on Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

Though these were my first weeks as a Senator, it is clear to me that history will judge our actions in the final days of this lame duck session. I strongly believe that LGBT equality is a pivotal civil rights issue and that repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell is an important step in communicating that the government of the United States no longer sanctions active discrimination against a segment of its population.

Our brave men and women in uniform are willing to fight for our freedom every day. It's our responsibility to keep fighting for theirs.