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Know Your Rights
Source: NY1
Subject: TGNCIQ Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Senate Votes To End “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Policy

The U.S. Senate voted 65-31 on Saturday in favor of ending the military’s controversial “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy, which had banned open gays from serving the armed forces for the last 17 years. Republicans had blocked the vote in the Senate, but with a tax bill signed and a Pentagon study in favor of ending the Clinton-era ban, some Republicans joined Democrats in supporting the bill.

Earlier in the day, the Senate also passed a procedural vote of 63-33, which virtually guaranteed the final bill’s passage. The House of Representatives approved the bill earlier this week. New Jersey Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg, an army veteran, co-sponsored the measure to end the policy.

Shortly after the procedural vote, he released a statement that read in part, “This is a civil rights victory that will soon bring an end to the discriminatory policy that wrongly bars Americans from serving their country simply because of sexual orientation.”

New York junior Senator Kirsten Gillibrand also released a statement that said in part, “We’ve lost more than 13,000 of our best and brightest to this unjust and discriminatory policy. By repealing this policy, we will increase America’s strength – both militarily and morally.”

In a statement, President Barack Obama praised the Senate’s taking what he called a “historic step” in ending the policy. “It is time to close this chapter in our history. 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,” said the president in his statement. “It is time to allow gay and lesbian Americans to serve their country openly. I urge the Senate to send this bill to my desk so that I can sign it into law.”

Critics of the legislation warned lifting the ban could compromise military cohesion.

While President Obama is expected to sign the measure sometime this week, the changes probably won’t take effect for several months. Before it’s officially adopted, the president and his top military advisers must certify lifting the ban won’t hurt troops’ ability to fight. After that, the military would undergo a 60-day wait period.

As a result, gay rights groups are urging military personnel to hold off on coming out. “For the time being, we’re calling all lesbian, gay and bisexual service members to not disclose their sexual orientation until this is finally done,” said Pedro Julio Serrano of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Meanwhile, a former Army lieutenant discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” also praised the Senate’s vote. Dan Choi was removed from the military in 2009 after officers found out he was gay. He’s been an outspoken opponent of the policy ever since. “When you say that our country and our men and women in uniform are unprofessional or just incapable of dealing with a basic fundamental values mission to get rid of discrimination, I think you undercut the military. You slap every soldier in the face,” Choi said. Choi tried re-enlisting in the military in October after a federal judge ruled the ban unconstitutional. He’s since been hospitalized for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder stemming from his time fighting in the Iraq war.

Also on Saturday, a measure to grant legal status to some undocumented immigrants failed to advance in the Senate. Senate Republicans and five Democrats successfully blocked the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM) Act by a 55-41 vote. The measure would have allowed illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children a chance to gain legal status if they enrolled in college or joined the military.

Supporters said the bill would have helped countless teens who were brought to the United States illegally, but critics called it a form of amnesty that would encourage illegal immigration.

Gillibrand, a co-sponsor of the bill, said currently the law “unfairly punishes” young undocumented immigrants.

The vote crushed the hopes of many in the city, including a group of students who gathered Saturday in the offices of Make the Road New York, the city’s largest participatory immigrant organization, in Jackson Heights, Queens.

“I am one of the dreamers, and we have been fighting a lot of time for this and this is just so sad that it didn’t pass. It was a huge opportunity,” said student Guadalupe Gracita. Advocates in Make the Road New York said they plan to continue fighting for comprehensive immigration reform.

“We saw bipartisan politics get in the way of people’s dream,” said Javier Valdes, the deputy director of Make the Road New York. “And the DREAM Act got voted down in the Senate, but still our immigrant communities are going to come back stronger than ever.”

The Senate votes came a day after President Barack Obama signed a tax-cut extension bill that had passed the House this week. The measure keeps the Bush-era tax cuts in place across all income levels for two more years, extends unemployment benefits for 13 months, offers a $2,500 tax credit for college students and cuts Social Security payroll taxes.