President Obama in his State of the Union address tonight asked the United States Congress to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that prohibits openly gay service men and women in the military.
Obama, who made repeal of the ban a campaign pledge, has long said that in a time of war the military can’t afford to lose a single qualified soldier, and believes that “preventing patriotic Americans from serving their country weakens our national security.”
In Wednesday night’s nationally televised address before a joint session of Congress, the President said:
“Abroad, America’s greatest source of strength has always been our ideals. The same is true at home.
We find unity in our incredible diversity, drawing on the promise enshrined in our Constitution: the notion that we are all created equal, that no matter who you are or what you look like, if you abide by the law you should be protected by it; that if you adhere to our common values you should be treated no different than anyone else.
We must continually renew this promise.
My Administration has a Civil Rights Division that is once again prosecuting civil rights violations and employment discrimination. We finally strengthened our laws to protect against crimes driven by hate.
This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are.
It’s the right thing to do.”
The 1993 act prohibits any homosexual or bisexual person from disclosing his or her sexual orientation or from speaking about any homosexual relationships, including marriages or other familial attributes, while serving in the United States armed forces.
Earlier this month, legal advisers to Admiral Mike Mullen, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recommended delaying the start of the repeal process for at least a year.
Other advisers at the Pentagon, however, argue that lifting the ban would not cause unmanageable problems or divisions among the uniformed military.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he planned to begin work this year on repealing the ban, but was was asked by the White House to postpone announcing a hearing until after the President’s State of the Union address.
The President has faced increasing pressure from gay-rights advocates to repeal “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act.
In October 2009, Obama signed hate crime legislation that extends civil rights protections to people based on sexual orientation, saying the nation would be a place where “we’re all free to live and love as we see fit.”
Days later, Obama called an end to the 22-year ban on travel to the United States by people tested positive for HIV, fulfilling a promise he made to gay advocates and acting to eliminate a restriction he said was “rooted in fear rather than fact.”
Update: 10:30 p.m. ET
Sen. John McCain, (R-AZ), the 2008 GOP Presidential candidate, released a statement in response to Obama’s call for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“I am immensely proud of, and thankful for, every American who wears the uniform of our country, especially at a time of war, and I believe it would be a mistake to repeal the policy. This successful policy has been in effect for over fifteen years, and it is well understood and predominantly supported by our military at all levels.”
“At a time when our Armed Forces are fighting and sacrificing on the battlefield, now is not the time to abandon the policy,” added McCain.
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