09.20.11

Comments Of Senator Patrick Leahy On The Repeal Of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

[Today, September 20, 2011, marks the full and final repeal of the controversial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) law, which prevented gays and lesbians from openly serving in the U.S. military.  Congress last year approved legislation to repeal the discriminatory policy.  Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) was a leading cosponsor of the legislation to repeal DADT.]

Last week, we celebrated the 224th anniversary of the United States Constitution, the document that enshrines the ideals we cherish in this country.  These are the ideals that the men and women who wear the uniform fight to protect.  Yet for the past 18 years, gays and lesbians serving in the military have not been free to be honest about who they are.  For nearly two decades, we have demanded that they hide a part of their identity if they wish to wear the uniform and fight for our ideals.  The now-ended policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is fundamentally un-American.  It is wrong.  And I am proud to say that today, it is fully and finally repealed.

Today we finally put an end to the practice of discriminating against service members who love their country and serve it honorably.  All service members, gay and straight alike, will be allowed to continue to serve their country and without worry about being kicked out just because of who they are. I applaud the Department of Defense and the branches of our military for responding quickly to the law passed at the end of last year.  Revising the Department of Defense personnel policies was no simple task, but Pentagon leaders have done it quickly and professionally.

That professionalism is the hallmark of our armed forces.  And whether we knew it or not, gay and lesbian Americans have always been a part of those armed forces. There is no doubt that they have served in the military our nation’s infancy. The only reason they could do so then, and now—even under the now repealed discriminatory policy—is because they display the same courage and professionalism that we expect from all of our men and women in uniform.  They are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country, and they should be treated no differently than anyone else.  I am proud to say that this week, this will finally be the case.

During last year’s debate on the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” I stood on the Senate floor and said that the stage was set for one of most significant civil rights victories of our lifetimes. With the President urging congressional action, and with the support of then-Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, we came together in a time when Washington’s partisan rancor seized the Senate on so many other issues.

I do not believe that ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will end all the problems that our gay and lesbian service members face in the military, but I do believe this is an important step.  Every member of our armed services should be judged solely on his or her contribution to the mission.  The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will ensure that we stay true to the principles upon which our great Nation was founded.  We ask our troops to protect freedom around the globe.  I am encouraged that we will finally protect their basic freedoms and equal rights here at home.

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