Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke on the House floor tonight in support of an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act that calls for a repeal of the discriminatory Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. The amendment passed in the House by a vote of 234 to 194. The vote on this policy comes after the first Harvey Milk Day in California and before the celebration of Memorial Day on Monday. Below are the Speaker's remarks.
"Madam Speaker, this weekend on Memorial Day, America will come together to honor all who have served our nation in uniform. And those brave Americans have no better friend that our Chairman of our Armed Services Committee, Mr. Skelton.
"Today, by repealing the discriminatory Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, we also honor the service and sacrifice of all who dedicate their lives to protecting the American people. We honor the values of our nation and we close the door on a fundamental unfairness.
"Under Don't ask, Don't Tell, more than 13,000 men and women in uniform have been discharged from the military. Thousands more have decided not to re-enlist. Fighter pilots, infantry officers, Arabic translators and other specialists have been discharged at a time when our nation is engaged in two wars.
"That is why I support repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and why that support has come from all over the country. Nearly eight out of 10 Americans want to end this era of discrimination. Admiral Mullen, the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said: "It is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do. 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.' He went on to say: "For me, personally, it comes down to integrity -- theirs as individuals and ours as institutions.'
"General Colin Powell, who was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs when this policy was implemented, has said that he now thinks this restrictive policy should be repealed.
"And in a letter to Congress, 51 retired Generals and Admirals and a Former Army Secretary called for the repeal of this policy, saying that they "have dedicated our lives to defending the rights of our citizens to believe whatever they wish.'
"Passing this amendment today respects the timeline of the Pentagon's Implementation Study Group. Repeal would take place only after the study group completes its work in December 2010 and after the President, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Secretary of Defense all certify that repeal will not hurt military readiness or unit cohesion. No one in this body would jeopardize our national security.
"America has always been the land of the free and the home of the brave. And our men and women in uniform make it so. We are so because they have been willing to fight for our country. Let us honor their service by recommitting to the values that they fight for on the battlefield.
"I urge my colleagues to vote for the repeal of this discriminatory policy of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and make America more American."