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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. BURRIS. Mr. President, we just had a press conference this afternoon with reference to don't ask, don't tell, the action we want to take in the Senate for our military people. I would like to make some brief remarks in that regard.

I come to the floor today because I believe in a basic principle, not just a political cause. I come to the floor because courage and valor are blind to race, religion, philosophy, and sexual orientation. I believe every single man and woman who puts on a military uniform is equally deserving of our thanks and our respect, and that when we dismiss the sacrifices made by those with a different sexual orientation, we undermine the strength of our fighting forces. When we fail to recognize the brave contributions gay and lesbian soldiers continue to make every single day, we diminish ourselves as much as we diminish their service. That is why I am pleased to join the following colleagues: Chairman Lieberman, Chairman Levin, Senator Gillibrand, Senator Udall of Colorado, and Senator Wyden in introducing legislation to repeal the military's don't ask, don't tell policy, a policy which is discriminatory, outdated, and detrimental to our national security.

Let me start by addressing every service man and woman, to those who have served in our Armed Forces in the past. Let's give them a big shout out and a big thank-you. This Nation honors the service and sacrifice of all our veterans and those who are still serving today. Let me say the days of serving in silence--those days are numbered. This legislation will recognize that every soldier, sailor, airman, and marine is equal to every other warrior, so no one will be forced to lie about who they are if they wish to serve this country.

I know there are some who believe this is too big a change, that it is not right and we need to wait. To them I would say it boils down to basic fairness. I remind them that the U.S. military has made policy changes before and with resounding success. The repeal of don't ask, don't tell is not just another vote for me, it is a very personal issue of basic fairness. When I was about 6 or 7 years old, I have a vivid memory of my family members who went off to war, my uncles and uncles-in-law and great uncles who chose to go to war and defend our country, regardless of the color of their skin or occupation or who they were as an individual. That choice defined them as patriots.

I have never forgotten their patriotism or their commitment to this country. But I have also never forgotten that the U.S. military was very different in those days. My family members volunteered to protect this Nation, but simply because of who they were, they had limited opportunities to serve. For all their skill, their talent, their intelligence, and their valor, they were forced to choose among two or three roles. They were forced to either be a cook or forced to dig ditches or forced to drive trucks. The only thing that separated my uncles from their brothers in arms was the color of their skin. But in those days, some people argued that racial integration would undermine the cohesion of our fighting forces. Yet the U.S. military came to recognize this was not the case and successive generations proved that everyone who volunteered to serve was capable of the same patriotism, bravery, and heroism.

That memory is especially crisp as I stand in this Chamber to bring an end to this discriminatory policy that forces our best and brightest to be willing to die for our Nation, while denying they are who they truly are. This, too, is an issue of basic fairness.

More than 60 years ago, President Truman recognized the wisdom of integrating the Armed Forces. He understood that in so doing, the Armed Forces grew stronger and the Nation safer. Today we recognize it is time to end don't ask, don't tell. This repeal of don't ask, don't tell will allow our servicemembers to live their lives openly, honestly, and still fight for the country we all love. So, regardless of sexual orientation or race or any other factor, today we stand to say we are grateful to the brave patriots who chose to defend our Nation and we salute them.

This is about fairness. This is about more than right versus left or Republican versus Democrat. This is about fighting for those who fight for us every day. Ending this policy is the fair thing to do, it is the right thing to do, and it is long overdue.


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