WASHINGTON (CN) - The Senate on Saturday voted 65 to 31 to repeal a ban on allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military. The bill now goes to President Barack Obama's desk for signature.
"It is time to close this chapter in our history," Obama said in a statement Saturday. "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.
"As commander-in-chief, I am also absolutely convinced that making this change will only underscore the professionalism of our troops as the best led and best trained fighting force the world has ever known."
Eight Republicans senators - Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Mark Kirk of Illinois, George Voinovich of Ohio, Richard Burr of North Carolina and John Ensign of Nevada - voted with Democrats to repeal the measure.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., praised Republicans for joining Democrats in the vote, saying it was not a partisan issue. "It's consistent with the best American values," he said of the repeal.
The House voted 250 to 175 to repeal the ban last Wednesday, after passing a similar measure earlier in the year.
Repealing the ban was one of Obama's top priorities for the lame duck Congress.
The policy, which took effect during the Clinton administration in 1993, forced several thousand gay men and lesbians to leave military service over the course of its 17-year history.
Opponents said repealing the ban during a time of war would be too disruptive to the military.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., addressed opponents in a press conference Saturday. "Some have said this is not the right time to repeal this policy, and they're right," Reid said. "It should have been done yesterday."
The repeal will take effect after Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen certify a plan ensuring that the repeal will not impact military readiness or effectiveness, recruiting and retention, and unit cohesion.
The current policy will remain in effect until the new plan is certified.
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