On Saturday, history was made and Sen. Susan Collins was a significant player in this historical moment. As the only Republican to support the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal amendment in May when the Senate Armed Services Committee moved to include it in the annual defense bill that had enshrined this discriminatory policy into law, and then as the only Republican who stood up last week to introduce a free-standing bill, she has been a true champion.
By a vote of 65-31, the Senate passed legislation that will allow for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
This failed and discriminatory policy has been the law of the land since 1993. In those 17 years, over 14,000 service members have been discharged from our nation’s military simply because they were gay or lesbian. An estimated 66,000 gays and lesbians are currently on active-duty.
These are patriots who want nothing more than to serve their country, and to do so with the honesty and integrity the uniform demands. These are service members and would-be service members who are willing to die for their country — for our country.
DADT is the only law that forces people to lie and punishes them for simply telling the truth. The law is a stain on our nation and we are thankful the Senate saw to its long overdue demise.
Sixty-five senators voted to repeal DADT, including Maine’s Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. But the truth of the matter is that Republican leaders in the Senate had worked hard to derail repeal efforts.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., twice led successful filibusters of the National Defense Authorization Act, to which DADT repeal was attached. Just when it appeared that any hope of DADT repeal was dead, a few senators, including Susan Collins, said enough is enough.
The facts were on the side of repeal. Over the past 50 years, well over 20 studies have concluded that open service will have no impact on unit cohesion in the military. Just a few weeks ago, a study conducted by the Pentagon, the most comprehensive study ever done on the issue of open service, found that the vast majority of service members have no issues with serving with openly gay or lesbian service members and feel it is time to repeal DADT.
In an act of true bipartisanship, Sen. Collins reached across the aisle and worked with senators in both parties to rid the country of the failed and discriminatory law. Sen. Collins did this after listening to the advice of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen and the many service members she met with and talked to about the impact of this law.
Our nation’s top military leader, Adm. Mullen testified that “we have in place a policy that forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens. For me, personally, it comes down to integrity — theirs as individuals and ours as an institution.” In addition, former Maine senator and Secretary of Defense Bill Cohen, former Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., and former Secretary of State Colin Powell all supported repeal of DADT. There is no doubt that Sen. Collins had the best interest of both the military and the country in mind when she chose to lead the efforts to repeal DADT.
Sen. Collins worked closely with Sen. Joe Lieberman to secure the Republican votes needed to break Sen. McCain’s filibuster, despite significant pressure from within the Republican Leadership to use DADT as a partisan issue, and to deal a defeat to President Barack Obama. Sen. Collins made the right choice in putting military readiness and our nation’s security before petty partisan politics. In doing this, Sen. Collins exhibited the integrity we need in public servants.
The successful Senate vote would not have happened without the leadership of Sen. Collins. For this reason, we all owe her a debt of gratitude.
Joe Solmonese is the president of the Human Rights Campaign.