Washington: Congress has taken two big steps toward ending the "don`t ask, don`t tell" ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military.
In quick succession Thursday, the Senate Armed Services Committee and the full House approved measures to repeal the 1993 law that allows gay people to serve in the armed services only if they hide their sexual orientation.
The votes were a victory for President Barack Obama, who has actively supported ending the policy, and for gay rights groups who have made repealing the ban their top legislative priority this year.
"Lawmakers today stood on the right side of history," said Joe Solmonese, president of Human Rights Campaign, a major gay rights organization.
With passage, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said, "We honor the values of our nation and we close the door on a fundamental unfairness."
The drive to end the ban still has a long way to go. The 234-194 House vote was an amendment to a defense spending bill that comes up for a final vote Friday. While the spending bill, which approves more than $700 billion in funds for military operations, enjoys wide support, some lawmakers vowed to vote against it if the "don`t ask, don`t tell" repeal was included.
"It jeopardizes passage of the entire bill," said Rep. Gene Taylor of Mississippi, a conservative Democrat who opposed it.
The full Senate is expected to take up the defense bill next month, and Republicans are threatening a filibuster if the change in policy toward gays remains in the legislation.