Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992 with the strong support of the LGBT community and allies who believed that his election would usher in an era when gays and lesbians could serve openly in the military.
Instead, supporters of equality and of strategies to assure that the military attracts the best and the brightest got the noxious "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" compromise, which supposedly allowed closeted gays and lesbians to serve in the military but in fact became a new platform for discrimination.
"Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" lasted through Clinton’s presidency and George Bush’s.
But, now, after two decades of organizing, campaigning and lobbying, "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" has been rejected—and with it the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the US military.
In an indication of how far the movement for LGBT rights has come, a bipartisan Senate vote of 63 to 31 to repeal "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" and lift the ban.
“Today, the Senate has taken an historic step toward ending a policy that undermines our national security while violating the very ideals that our brave men and women in uniform risk their lives to defend,” President Obama declared after the Saturday afternoon vote. “By ending ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ no longer will our nation be denied the service of thousands of patriotic Americans forced to leave the military, despite years of exemplary performance, because they happen to be gay. And no longer will many thousands more be asked to live a lie in order to serve the country they love.”
Senate Democrats and a handful of Republicans early on Saturday broke the filibuster that had blocked final action on the repeal move.
The day saw an embarrassing final push by Senator John McCain, R-Arizona, to demagogue the issue, but even Republicans had stopped listening to the sputtering defeated presidential candidate.
When the final vote came, Senate Democrats and independents Joe Lieberman and Bernie Sanders were joined not just by Republicans who have tended to be sympathetic to LGBT rights—Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska—but also by Richard Burr of North Carolina, John Ensign of Nevada, Mark Kirk of Illinois and George Voinovich of Ohio.
The Log Cabin Republicans, the GOP’s leading LGBT group, was justifiably proud—and highlighted the work of Maine’s Collins to bring the repeal measure to the floor as a stand-alone bill after failed efforts to attach it to defense-spending measures. "With this vote, we have crossed one of the final hurdles standing in the way of ending the failed ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy," declared R. Clarke Cooper, the group’s executive director. "Log Cabin Republicans are proud of our Senate allies who have voted to make our military stronger. Senator Collins, in particular, has long been the point of the spear in fighting for repeal among Republicans. She showed tremendous leadership in crossing the aisle to make this vote happen, continuing the fight when many thought hope was lost. Senators Brown, Kirk, Murkowski, Snowe and Voinovich also deserve our thanks for taking a principled stand for the integrity of all American servicemembers. "
Rea Carey, the executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, summed things up with a celebratory observation that: "Today’s vote is the critical strike against ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and toward creating a path that could end in lesbian, gay and bisexual people being able to serve openly, honestly, and to great benefit of our country. We celebrate this important victory and thank all the senators who supported fairness today. We are on the brink of making history. An end to ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ cannot happen soon enough. This arcane and costly policy has destroyed thousands of careers, wasted much-needed dollars, and failed to enhance our nation’s security. We are now poised to end this travesty once and for all, as the Senate today joined with the three-quarters of Americans who already believe ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ must go. People from every background, every faith, every community across the country know that qualified, patriotic Americans willing to risk their lives by serving in the military should be able to do so, free of discrimination. When full repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is implemented, our nation will honor the principles of fairness and justice that it holds so dearly."