The days of of the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy appeared to draw closer to their end as the House voted Thursday night to repeal the law following a similar vote by the Senate Armed Service Committee to end an era in which gays couldn't openly serve in the armed services.
The House vote was 234 to 194 with the votes cast essentially on party lines. The Senate committee voted 16 to 12 for repeal.
While the votes represented a significant step towards ending the law under which service members whose same-sex preferences have become openly known have been discharged, more votes in both chambers would be necessary before a repeal could become law.
The stage was set for Thursday's votes by a compromise reached by the White House and Congress which allowed the vote to move forward this week but put off an actual end to the current policy which has been in place since 1993 until the Pentagon completes a review of the impact the change would have on military readiness.
A final end to the actual policy wouldn't occur until and unless President Barack Obama certified that the change wouldn't harm military effectiveness. Defense Secretary Bob Gates and Joint Chiefs Chair Adm. Mike Mullen would also have to make the same certification.
Also, as Politico.com points out, there are complicating factors that have nothing to do with gay rights. The legislation is part of a defense authorization bill with many moving parts. A Politico excerpt:
The defense authorization bill typically passes with wide margins, but last year was an exception, as many Republicans voted against the bill because it included a hate-crimes provision.
The inclusion of don't ask don't tell could set up a similar dynamic this year.
And because the House defied President Obama's veto threat to hang onto funding for two Joint Strike Fighter engines, the situation is even stickier.
The two actions could put Obama between a promise he's made to his most powerful Cabinet member to strike down a bill containing engine funding and his liberal base of support on a landmark civil rights issue.