'Don't ask, don't tell' repeal likely

WASHINGTON — A ruling by a federal judge in California declaring the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy unconstitutional adds to growing momentum to end the nation's ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military, and the only question may be whether Congress or the courts makes the decision.

In May, the House voted to repeal the ban, as did the Senate Armed Services Committee, and President Obama said he looked forward to signing a bill repealing the ban. "This legislation will make our armed forces even stronger and more inclusive by allowing gay and lesbian soldiers to serve honestly and with integrity," he said.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called the repeal "the right thing to do."

The Defense Department bill that includes the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" is ready for final action in the Senate, and gay-rights advocates are hopeful because they need only a majority vote for passage. But the Senate has a crowded docket until after the November elections.

"We are facing a critical moment, but we're in the best possible place we could be because it (repeal) is in the bill," Allison Herwitt, legislative director for the Human Rights Campaign, said on Friday.

In August, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., blocked the Senate from taking up the defense bill because it contained the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell."

McCain called the proposed repeal "purely a political promise on the part of the president of the United States and the members on the other side of the aisle, and it is disgraceful to have it on this legislation without a survey being done about our battle effectiveness and the morale of the men and women in the military from whom I am hearing all the time."

Yet U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips' opinion issued Thursday in Riverside, Calif., presented a damning case on how "don't ask, don't tell" has worked. Phillips argued the military has violated its own policy and has been hypocritical in enforcing it.

She cited examples of officers with excellent records who were discharged, even though they had kept their sexual orientation a secret.