Republican Susan Collins of Maine
crossed the aisle late Thursday to join Democrats in the Senate Armed
Services Committee in voting to attach in next year's defense budget
language that repeals the law banning gay troops from serving openly.
The vote is seen as crucial to ending
the Clinton-era policy known as “Don't Ask, Don't Tell.”
Sixteen committee members voted in
favor of ending the policy, one more than needed for approval.
Collins told the New York Times that she was the only
Republican voting for the change and that debate was “vigorous.”
There are 16 Democrats and 12 Republicans on the panel.
Senators met in a closed-door session
scheduled to last 12 hours.
Proponents of repeal warned that the
job wasn't finished and that gay troops must continue to serve in
“The Senate Armed Services Committee
passed a historic roadmap to allowing open military service, but it
doesn't end the discharges,” Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of
Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a group that lobbies for
Opponents of repeal were hoping
pressure from the president and the Pentagon to hold off on repeal
until after the Defense Department has completed an implementation
study due in December would sway moderate Democrats to vote against
repeal. But on Monday, Democratic
leaders and the White House reached a compromise plan to repeal
“Don't Ask, Don't Tell” but delay its implementation until
after the study is complete and the president and military leaders
have checked off on the policy changes.
Senators Robert Byrd of West Virginia
and Ben Nelson of Nebraska said the agreement swayed them to vote in
favor of abolishing the 1993 law.
Republicans, including Arizona Senator
John McCain, have threatened to filibuster the defense authorization
bill once it arrives on the Senate floor. But they would need to
round up a 60-vote majority to untie the amendment in the Senate,
which includes 41 Republican members.
The House is also expected to take an
initial vote on the issue late Thursday or Friday. Pennsylvania
Representative Patrick Murphy's repeal amendment is among the dozens
members are expected to consider. Murphy said Tuesday that by his
head count the
measure will sail through the House.
“We have the votes to get this done,”
the Army vet said. “I have 192 co-sponsors [in the House] and
commitments from dozens of others.”