Originally published on Advocate.com December 18 2010 8:45 PM ET
The decisive victory over “don't ask, don't tell” in the U.S. Senate was cause for celebration among those who have fought the bruising political battle on Capitol Hill — including outgoing House speaker Nancy Pelosi, who said congressional defeat of the 17-year-old policy was one of the highlights of her four-year tenure as speaker.
“Where does it rank? It ranks very high,” Pelosi told The Advocate Saturday evening. “I think people will see this [vote] as a celebration of our country. Passing this bill makes America stronger in every way, not just national security, but in our values. Frankly it’s a boost of morale for the nation and will be remembered as a defining time when we said no to discrimination.”
The historic 65-31 vote, which included eight Republican senators in support of ending DADT, didn’t merit equal praise from staunch repeal opponent Arizona senator John McCain, however. As he acknowledged the inevitability of the bill’s passage on Saturday, McCain said on the Senate floor that it marked “a very sad day” for the country and would lead to “high-fives all over the liberal bastions of America.”
Pelosi, who represents California’s liberal 8th Congressional District, covering most of San Francisco, rejected those views. “I certainly disagree,” she said. “I don’t know what’s going on in Senator McCain’s life that this is a sad day for him. It’s a very happy day.”
With nearly eight in 10 Americans now in support of gays serving openly in the military according to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, “I really do think the American people were ahead of the Congress on this issue,” Pelosi said.
The House Speaker received a congratulatory call from President Barack Obama shortly after the vote (Pelosi declined to discuss any specifics), followed by an “emotional conversation” with Massachusetts representative Barney Frank, whom she praised along with fellow openly gay representatives Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Jared Polis of Colorado as instrumental in a long-overdue legislative win (a fourth gay representative, Rhode Island congressman-elect David Cicilline, takes office in January).
Senate majority leader Harry Reid, Pelosi said, "was very strong on this issue because, as you know, forces not on our side didn’t want to bring it up until the START treaty was finished, until this was finished, until that was finished.”
And Pelosi quickly added another name to that list of key players: Pennsylvania representative Patrick Murphy, an Iraq war veteran and sponsor of House repeal legislation who will not be returning to Congress in the next session after losing his reelection bid in November. “He just took the lead on this, very courageously,” Pelosi said of Murphy.
The House, which had previously passed the Murphy amendment on DADT repeal in May as part of the defense spending bill, passed a stand-alone repeal bill Thursday by a vote of 250-175.
Though implementation of DADT repeal is still predicted to be a process that could take months before gay and lesbian service members can serve openly, Pelosi praised the vote as a boost for future LGBT gains in Congress.
Gay and lesbian activists have railed against Congress’s inaction on stalled bills — namely the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would ban workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Speaker Pelosi stood firm on congressional Democrats’ LGBT record during the current session and said her party moved on “don’t ask, don’t tell” legislation ahead of ENDA at the behest of gay community leaders.
As far as what the prospects for LGBT-related bills may be under a soon-to-be Republican-controlled House, Pelosi said she didn’t know as she hands the gavel over to Ohio representative and speaker-elect John Boehner. “But this victory can help us with ENDA, which [addresses] another form of discrimination that we must end,” she said. “If we keep fighting, if we keep persuading that ENDA should pass, we will be successful.”
Read more Advocate.com DADT repeal coverage here.