Congress votes to end ban on gays in US military

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The US Congress yesterday voted to repeal the ban against gays serving openly in the US military and sent the measure to President Barack Obama for his signature. The Senate voted 65-31 to end 17-year-old “don’t ask, don’t tell,” policy just after breaking through a Republican procedural roadblock which had held up the White House-backed legislation. The US House of Representatives passed the bill earlier this week as lawmakers pushed to complete their work before the new Congress is seated in January.

Obama is expected to sign it into law next week, his spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

“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,” Obama said in a statement before the final vote.

Obama vowed during his 2008 presidential campaign to end the ban, which he denounced as unfair, unwise and a violation of basic human rights. He had been criticized by liberal groups who said he had failed to push hard enough to end the policy.

More than 13,000 men and women have been expelled from the US military under “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which allows gays to serve in the armed forces as long as they keep their sexual orientation secret. Many of those dismissed have said they hope to return to service.

Former Air Force Major Mike Almy, at a press conference with Senate leaders following the vote, said he was dismissed after another officer read his private e-mails to loved ones back home. He faced mortar attacks while commanding a unit of 200 in Iraq and was recommended to be promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.

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