A bill allowing openly gay people to serve in the military was approved by the U.S. Senate today, drawing cheers from gay and lesbian military veterans and other members and supporters of the LGBT community who gathered in San Francisco to watch the vote.
The Senate today voted 65 to 31 in favor of the bill to end the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. The bill was approved by the House of Representatives on Wednesday and will now go to President Obama to be signed into law.
Zoe Dunning, a former Navy commander and co-chair of the board of directors for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, was among a couple of dozen people who gathered at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center on Market Street to watch the vote live on TV.
When the bill was passed, "a big whoop went up in the air," and there were "hugs all around and tears of joy," Dunning said.
Dunning, who served in active duty for six years and another 16 in the reserves, 13 of which she spent as an open lesbian, said she has worked on repealing the policy for nearly two decades.
"To stand there and watch history in the making and feel I hopefully contributed in some small way, it makes it all worth it," she said.
Julian Chang, also of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said, "It's a fantastic day for all of America because this was a bipartisan vote" that represented the will of the people.
The repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy was supported by an overwhelming majority of Americans. A Pentagon study also found that 70 percent of current and former servicemembers predicted the repeal would have a positive, mixed or no effect.
"We have left behind all the backward thinking and prejudice, and have moved forward," Chang said.
He said he was overcome with emotion when the final vote came in.
"I cried because I thought of my friends in the military who were so scared of being found out of who they are," he said. "We've made history, and can now include people instead of exclude people from the American dream."
Obama lauded the passage of the bill in a statement released after the Senate's vote.
"The Senate has taken an historic step toward ending a policy that undermines our national security while violating the very ideals that our brave men and women in uniform risk their lives to defend," he said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who voted in favor of the bill, noted that support for repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy has grown in recent years.
"I strongly believe that is emblematic of the change of thinking in the United States," Feinstein said in a statement. "Over these last years, gay Americans have established themselves as heroes, as professionals, as academicians, and as brave warriors for our country."
Obama is expected to sign the bill next week, and he, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff also have to certify that repealing the policy would not hinder the troops.
Once all the signatures are in place, there will be a 60-day waiting period until the repeal can go into effect.
"We've cleared the last major hurdle and we're on our way," Dunning said.