WASHINGTON, Dec. 15 (UPI) -- The House of Representatives Wednesday passed a bill that would repeal the U.S. military's ban on openly gay and lesbian personnel from serving.
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., who is openly gay, announced the 250-175 vote to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which enjoys the support of President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chief of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen.
"It is never too late to do the right thing," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said during floor debate. "We have the opportunity to accommodate those willing and able to serve this country. Now is the time to act."
Hoyer said Gates was worried that if Congress failed to act, the courts would. If the repeal is ordered through the judiciary, Gates said he doubted there would be an orderly, thoughtful transition.
"Secretary Gates said to me, 'Pass this bill,'" Hoyer said.
Obama said the legislation "allows for a smooth and responsible repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell' in a way that maintains good order and discipline in our military ranks."
"Indeed, all of the service chiefs have said that when this law is changed , they will implement an orderly transition effectively and efficiently," the president said in a statement released by the White House. "As the comprehensive study by the Department of Defense clearly shows, we can move to a new policy in a responsible manner that ensures our military strength and our national security."
"I won't ask people willing to die for my country to lie to my country," Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, said to a round of applause during the debate Wednesday.
Republicans speaking against the repeal cited service leader concerns that a repeal, particularly during war, would hurt unit morale and be a distraction to troops on the ground.
"'Don't ask, don't tell' was a successful compromise in 1993" and it remains a success now, said Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind.
Rep. Steve Buyer, R-Ind., said he thought it was wrong to "dump a policy" on the military when service chiefs said it would be detrimental.
"It's not that young members of the military who face death, who face the destruction their comrades, they're not the ones who are upset by this," Frank said. "It's our colleagues on the other side who are imputing their unease at the presence of gay and lesbian people to the young people in the military, who I think are better than that."
Pence denied that was the case, saying, "Nothing could be further from the truth."
Republicans also faulted a Pentagon-commissioned survey that concluded a repeal wouldn't disrupt the military for not asking the right question and not including a broad enough sample.
"It's not worth the risk to put (forward troops) in greater jeopardy than they are now," said Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif.
The bill heads to the Senate, where identical stand-alone legislation was introduced by Sens. Joseph Lieberman, Ind-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine. Republicans have blocked consideration of a repeal that was included in the defense authorization bill.
Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said in a statement to the Portland (Maine) Press Herald Wednesday she would support repealing the ban.
"After careful analysis of the comprehensive report compiled by the Department of Defense and thorough consideration of the testimony provided by the secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the service chiefs, I support repeal of the 'don't ask, don't tell' law," Snowe said.
Snowe is the fourth Republican member of the Senate to join supporters of repealing the ban, The Hill reported. The others are Collins, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Scott Brown of Massachusetts.
A test vote on repealing the ban fell three votes short last week of the 60 necessary to overcome a GOP filibuster.