Last night, United States Senator Roland W. Burris joined his colleagues in voting in favor of an amendment to the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" legislation before the Senate Armed Services Committee. The legislation, of which Senator Burris is a co-sponsor, would repeal the military's existing policy that discharges service members based on sexual orientation. The amendment passed by a 16-12 vote and will now be included in the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act.
The amendment introduced by Senator Burris stipulates that the Department of Defense Working Group complete a report on the implementation of the repeal and that President Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Staff Adm. Mike Mullen certify the repeal before it takes effect.
"The amendment we introduced today will help facilitate the repeal of the military's discriminatory 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy," said Senator Burris. "This policy for too long has undermined the strength and integrity of our military by discharging perfectly capable soldiers from serving their country. Through this repeal, we will strengthen our armed forces and finally allow gay service men and women to serve openly without the threat of prejudice. I am proud to stand alongside my Senate colleagues in advocating for the end of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'"
The Military Readiness Enhancement Act stipulates that the Department of Defense may not discriminate against current service members, nor may it discriminate against future military recruits, based on sexual orientation, and will repeal the military's existing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.
The Act would also prevent discharges based upon a service member's sexual orientation from the date of enactment, and instructs that any previously discharged service member not be prohibited from re-enlistment. Upon passage, this legislation would allow military leaders a maximum of fifteen months to review and recalibrate internal policies and procedures, after which the repeal would be statutorily enacted.
In recent months, President Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen have all indicated their preference to see "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repealed. It is estimated that more than 65,000 gay Americans serve in the military now, and that the United States is home to more than 1,000,000 gay veterans.
Senator Burris has long been a vocal advocate and ally of the LGBT community, and is particularly active on matters of discrimination and civil rights.
Senator Burris was a co-sponsor of the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Act, which was signed into law by President Obama in October 2009. The law provides a definition of hate crimes, and assists state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies with technical, forensic and other assistance in the investigation or prosecution of violent crimes and hate crimes. Burris has worked with hate crimes enforcement firsthand as a former Attorney General for Illinois, and is a strong supporter of prosecution and prevention of hate crimes.
Burris is also a co-sponsor of the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act, which necessitates equal treatment in benefits for same-sex and opposite-sex domestic partners of individuals employed by the federal government--the largest civilian employer in the nation. The Act was passed in December of 2009 by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, of which Senator Burris is a member.