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September 22, 2014

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Senate repeals ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ with help from Ensign

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John Ensign

The Senate voted to repeal the military’s longstanding policy against gays and lesbians serving openly in the military today, sending the measure to the President’s desk for his signature with both of Nevada’s senators on board.

Senator John Ensign was one of two Republicans to who had voted against taking up the measure Saturday morning, who on Saturday afternoon, nonetheless voted in favor of the repealing the longstanding “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

Before the vote, Ensign said the choice for him was a struggle between what he personally thought was the right thing to do, and the circumstantial concerns of various military chiefs.

That’s why, he explained, he had voted against taking up the measure.

But in the end, once the question on the table, it appeared personal conviction won out over political circumstance. “My personal feeling is that it should be repealed,” he’d said before the 65-to-31 vote.

Ensign left the Senate chamber quickly and quietly — but the other apparent switcher, North Carolina’s Richard Burr, explained his choice to reporters afterwards.

“A majority of Americans have grown up at a time that they don’t think exclusion is the right thing for the United States to do...it’s not the accepted practice anywhere else in our society. It only makes sense,” he said, adding though that he was vehemently opposed to the timing.

“Even though this bill has now passed, it should never be enacted immediately,” he added.

Other Republicans — eight in total voted for the bill — seemed satisfied with the outcome as well.

“It’s a significant vote,” said Maine Republican Olympia Snowe, who asked reporters which other Republicans had in the end voted for the bill — and seemed to express satisfied surprise when she heard Ensign’s name.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has long been a strong advocate for the legislation, which he initially tried to bring before the Congress under the defense authorization bill — a must-pass measure which the Senate may pass by unanimous consent later this weekend.

When that bill failed to pass a procedural hurdle to open it for consideration twice, Senators Joe Lieberman, Independent from Connecticut, and Susan Collins, Republican from Maine, stepped in with a standalone measure that Reid then fast-tracked to the Senate floor, also adding his name as a co-sponsor.

On Saturday afternoon, he congratulated his Republican colleagues who voted to repeal the policy for taking a vote that put them on the right side of history.

“This is one of those moments in our history when we stepped up and squared our policies with the values this nation was founded upon,” he said. “I applaud those Republicans who have joined us to repeal this policy, and hope that even more will join us on the right side of history when we complete our work, and end ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’”

On Wednesday, the House voted as well to repeal the policy, by a convincing margin of 250-175. But there wasn’t similar unanimity among members of the Nevada delegation.

Democrats Dina Titus and Shelley Berkley cast votes in favor of repealing the policy.

“It is long past time to end this policy that has only served to weaken our Armed Forces and institutionalize discrimination against brave men and women in the LGBT community who want to serve their country,” Titus said. “Gay and lesbian service members make the same sacrifice as their straight counterparts when they put on our nation’s uniform and march in to battle, and they should receive the same respect and dignity.”

“Don’t ask, don’t tell is outdated and it’s unjust,” Berkley said. “It makes no sense for our military to discharge valuable service members, especially during a time of war, when we need every American who is willing and able to serve...it only undermines the strength and integrity of our military.”

But Republican Congressman Dean Heller voted against repeal. His office did not release a statement after the vote.

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