As prepared for delivery.
Mr. President, I am here today to express my strong support for the repeal of the ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy and my great satisfaction at having passed this critical, bipartisan piece of legislation. I want to congratulate and thank Senators Lieberman and Collins for their strong, bipartisan leadership on this issue. I was proud to be a cosponsor of this bill, and I look forward to the President's signature in the coming days.
It is not often that the Senate gets the opportunity - with a single vote - to right a wrong, but we have done it here today. This was a historic vote - one for which this Senate will be remembered for a long time. This was our opportunity to fix an outdated, discriminatory and broken policy and to strengthen America's security. I am proud of what we have accomplished today, and I know the United States, our military, and our security will be better off because of this legislation.
I completely agreed with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who strongly endorsed the repeal and urged the Senate to pass this legislation before the end of the year. Secretary Gates and America's military leadership understand that this discriminatory policy undermines our national security and diminishes our military readiness.
A nation at war is a nation that needs the best, most qualified service members we can find - regardless of sexual orientation. At a time when nearly 150,000 American men and women are serving in combat overseas, and at a time when our military is stretched thin across the globe, we simply cannot afford to lose some of our finest soldiers.
Since the policy was instituted in 1993, more than 14,000 service members have been expelled from the military, and an estimated 4,000 service members per year voluntarily leave because of this discriminatory policy. 1,000 of those expelled were badly needed specialists with vital mission critical skills - like Arabic speakers and other technical experts.
‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell' also ignores the realities of today's combat environment, where American soldiers are fighting next to allied troops from around the world. In fact, at least 12 nations allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly have fought alongside U.S. service members in Afghanistan. At least 28 countries, including our closest allies, Great Britain, Australia, Canada, and Israel, already allow open service.
Not only is this policy costing us critical capabilities, it is also unnecessarily costing us a significant amount of money. The military spends as much as $43,000 to replace each individual charged under the ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy. At a time of extremely tight budgets with little money to go around, it just doesn't make sense to spend tens of thousands of dollars to investigate, try, and replace American soldiers based only on their sexual orientation.
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, stated his support for repealing ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' Calling a repeal "the right thing to do," Admiral Mullen said, "No matter how I look at this issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens."
Repeal of this policy has earned the backing of an overwhelming majority of America's Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and countless military leaders, including retired General Colin Powell, who says that attitudes and circumstances have changed since the policy was first instituted seventeen years ago.
In addition, we now have a good understanding of what our own military men and women feel about the repeal of this policy. The military undertook one of the largest and most comprehensive reviews in its history to make sure those most affected by this change had their views heard and incorporated. The in-depth, nine-month review included a comprehensive survey that was sent to nearly 400,000 active duty and reserve component service members as well as 150,000 military spouses.
The review's final report - released several weeks ago - found that repealing this policy could be accomplished without undermining military readiness and can be initiated immediately. The report found that more than two-thirds of those questioned found that repeal would have no effect on cohesion, effectiveness, unit readiness, or morale.
Mr. President, we used to tell young Americans, "Don't ask what your country can do for you." Yet now we tell the very people who have answered that call, ‘Don't Ask, Don't tell.' This is a civil rights issue. It is a moral issue, and it is a national security issue. Today, the Senate made a historic decision to fix this broken and outdated policy.
Repealing the ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy strengthens our national security and enhances our military readiness. Most importantly, it is the right thing to do. I am proud to have cosponsored this legislation and proud of the Senate's action today.