WASHINGTON -- Senate Democratic leaders say they will bring a bill to the floor next week that would result in the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy on homosexuals being overturned, although a leading Republican is pledging to mount a filibuster.
The bill, the annual Department of Defense authorization bill, typically is not very controversial and usually has broad bipartisan support. But Democrats amended this year's version so that the military's policy prohibiting open homosexual service would be overturned if the bill passes and a reversal is OK'd by President Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen. All three support a repeal.
Aides to Majority Leader Harry Reid, D.-Nev., told several media outlets that a vote will take place next week after the Senate completes debate on a small businesses bill. The Senate defense bill is controversial not only because it would reverse the military's policy but also because it contains an amendment that would eliminate a longstanding restriction on elective, privately funded abortions in military health care facilities.
The House already has passed its version of the bill, although it didn't have the abortion language. If the Senate passes the defense bill, it would go to a House-Senate conference, which would need to reconcile the differences between the two versions. Each chamber then would need to pass the bill again.
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Sen. John McCain, R.-Ariz., and other supporters of the current military policy on homosexuals say Congress should not tackle the issue until an ongoing survey of military personnel is completed in December.
McCain spokesman Brooke Buchanan told Fox News the Arizona senator will support a filibuster and "strongly believes in the importance of completing the comprehensive review of the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' law prior to taking any legislative action to repeal the policy."
Buchanan added, "As all four service chiefs have stated, we should not short circuit the ongoing Pentagon review and thereby deny our men and women in uniform a chance to have their voices heard on an important issue that affects them and their service."
The chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines -- all members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- sent letters to Congress saying they believe the review should be complete before Congress acts. Mullen also spoke out in May, saying, "Ideally, I would certainly have preferred that legislation not be brought forward in terms of the change until we are completed with that review."
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Supporters of Don't Ask, Don't Tell oppose repeal because they say it will undermine military readiness, cohesion, privacy, recruitment and retention, as well as the religious freedom of many service members and chaplains whose opposition to homosexual behavior is based on the Bible.
It is not known if McCain has the 41 votes needed to support a filibuster. This summer one Democrat, Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia, was highly critical of any congressional move to act before the study is complete.
"I was really disappointed in the way that this process was accelerated," Webb said. "... I believe we had a process in place and to preempt it in some ways showed a disrespect for the people in the military."
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, has urged the Senate to filibuster the authorization bill.
"I've never known of a better excuse for a filibuster than to stop the Congress of the United States from essentially destroying the greatest military force our nation has ever known." Land said.