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House OKs 'don't ask' repeal; Senate next

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - The House voted yesterday to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that for 17 years has forced gays in the military to conceal their sexual identity.

The 250-175 vote propels the issue to the Senate for what could be the last chance for now to end the 1993 law that forbids recruiters to ask about sexual orientation while prohibiting soldiers from acknowledging that they are gay.

It's "the only law in the country that requires people to be dishonest or be fired if they choose to be honest," said Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.).

Democratic leaders in the Senate say they are committed to bringing the bill to the floor before Congress adjourns for the year. But they are challenged by some Republicans and a daunting agenda that includes legislation to fund the government and ratifying a nuclear arms treaty with Russia.

Failure to overturn the policy this year could relegate the issue to the back burner with Republicans, who are less supportive of allowing openly gay individuals to serve, take over the House and gain strength in the Senate.

"Now is the time for us to act," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and "close the door on a fundamental unfairness in our nation."

Some Republicans, led by Sen. John McCain of Arizona, argue that it would be a mistake for the military to undergo a major cultural change while the nation is fighting two wars.

The issue has split the military. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other senior leaders support lifting the restrictions on gays. But Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos repeated his opposition this week.

The White House, in a statement supporting repeal, stressed that the president, the defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff must first certify that implementation is consistent with military readiness, recruiting and retention and unit cohesion.

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