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Update: Senate votes to overturn military gay ban | News

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Update: Senate votes to overturn military gay ban

Former Air Force Major Mike Almy says, "I'm not sure it's really sunk in yet. It's just a tremendous day forward for ending discrimination against gay and lesbian Americans."

Senators voted 65 to 31 in favor of repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell. It was originally put in place 17 years ago. Legislators supporting the repeal feel they're getting rid of a discriminatory measure, but opponents say it's a bad move during war-time and will hinder soldier performance.

Now that the bill has overcome its final hurdle in Congress, some Arkansans are calling it a major victory.

While folks remain strongly opposed, the repeal will mean for the first time in American history, gays can be openly accepted by the military without fear of being kicked out.

Eight Republicans joined Democrats in overturning the military Don't Ask Don't Tell policy, but not without debate. U.S. Senator John McCain voiced concern fearing the distraction can cause war casualties. He says, "We are doing great damage and we could possibly and probably harm the battle effectiveness which is so vital to the support and survival of our young men and women in the military."

A Pentagon study found two-thirds of service members didn't think changing the law would have much of an effect.

John Schenck says, "I have never met a gay soldier, male or female that was prissy. "No," adds Robert Loyd.

Schenck and Loyd are aware there can be negative consequences. "There will certainly be bigots, decreasing in numbers hopefully," Loyd says.

Both are gay rights activists; they have been together 35 years and Loyd recalls coming out while in the military and not getting any backlash.

Schenck says, "You should be proud of who you are, gay straight, whatever." Loyd adds, "Especially when you fight for the rights that you haven't been getting. It's been 42 years since I was in Vietnam and it took that long to get a simple right like this."

More than 13,500 service members have been dismissed since the law was enacted in 1993, now some may decide to return.

"They're going to want to do something for the country that is now choosing to do something right for them," Loyd explains.

The American Legion is the largest veterans' service organization with chapters in Arkansas. National Commander Jimmie Foster has this statement, "A repeal cannot be easily implemented and could compromise the effectiveness of crucially needed fighting forces. Political expediency should not take precedence over providing adequate time for debate. There is no reason this must be decided... One must ask, what's the rush? ... It has been in place for seventeen years."

Schenck concludes, "We were founded on all men are created equal. This is a great day for equal rights not just gay rights. It's a step towards equality for all. It's all we have ever asked for."

Now that the bill has been passed the President is expected to sign the measure into law next week.

AP: Pentagon, lifting gay ban to take time

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is reminding troops that "don't ask, don't tell" will remain military policy for at least a while longer, despite a historic Senate vote on Saturday to overturn it.

Under the bill approved by a Senate vote of 65-31, the president and Pentagon must first certify that lifting the ban won't hurt troops' ability to fight. After that, the military will undergo a 60-day wait period before any changes are made.

In a statement, Gates said he will begin the process immediately. But, he added, certification won't come until after "careful consultation" with the military service chiefs and combatant commanders.