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"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Repeal Evades GOP Filibuster

US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta testifies on the attack on the US facilities in Benghazi, Libya, before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on February 7, 2013.
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AP

Updated at 1:05 p.m. ET

The Senate today overcame a Republican-led filibuster to move forward with consideration of a repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," essentially ensuring that the 17-year-old policy of barring gays from serving openly in the military will come to an end.

After multiple failed attempts to pass the repeal, hearings on the issue and reviewing an exhaustive Pentagon study on the matter, the Senate voted 63 to 33 to move the bill forward. The Senate will take one more vote at 3 p.m. ET today to officially pass the repeal; only a majority vote is needed for the bill's official passage.

Once the Senate takes that final vote, the bill will go to President Obama to be signed into law. The signing will likely take place sometime next week, according to the White House. The House passed its version of the bill on Wednesday.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid quoted the late Sen. Barry Goldwater to defend the repeal: "You don't have to be straight to shoot straight," he said.

"The fact is removing a form of legalized discrmination from our books is not a liberal or conservative idea, it's not a Democratic or Republican idea," said Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), the sponsor of the legislation. "It's an American idea consistent with American values."

The repeal was met with resistance down to the very last moment from Republicans who argued the repeal would have a negative impact on the nation's armed forces.

"Today's a very sad day," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the top Republican in the Senate Armed Services Committee. Citing the concerns of Marine Commandant General James Amos, who is opposed to the repeal, McCain said, "When you're life's on the line, you don't want any distraction."

Six Republicans joined Democrats in supporting the repeal: Sens. Scott Brown (Mass.), Susan Collins (Maine), Olympia Snowe (Maine), Mark Kirk (Ill.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and George Voinovich (Ohio).

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia did not vote today, but he released a written statement saying he does not support the repeal. Manchin was the lone Democrat to vote against the measure last week, saying he needed time to discuss the issue with his constituents.

Manchin said today that after having those discussions, as well as talking further with his fellow senators and military leaders, he remained concerned about the timing and impact of the repeal, given that the nation is currently at war. "While I believe the DADT policy will be repealed, and probably should be repealed in the near future, I cannot support a repeal of the policy at this time," he said.

Mr. Obama today released a statement saying that he is confident the military can responsibly transition to the new policy while ensuring its strength and readiness. He said that the "don't ask" policy undermines national security while violating American ideals.

"By ending 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' no longer will our nation be denied the service of thousands of patriotic Americans forced to leave the military, despite years of exemplary performance, because they happen to be gay. And no longer will many thousands more be asked to live a lie in order to serve the country they love," Mr. Obama said. "It is time to close this chapter in our history. It is time to recognize that sacrifice, valor and integrity are no more defined by sexual orientation than they are by race or gender, religion or creed."

Even though the repeal will now surely be signed into law, it will still be some time before it is completely implemented throughout the armed services. After Mr. Obama signs the repeal, he and military leaders must certify the Pentagon study, which concluded that allowing gays to serve openly would not have long-lasting negative consequences on the military.

Then, the Pentagon would begin an implementation plan, which consists of training troops and rewriting all the policies and regulations that would be affected. Taking the necessary time to institute the policy correctly has been one of Defense Secretary Robert Gates' strongest arguments for legislative repeal: If the matter is left to the courts and they mandate an immediate repeal, he has suggested, the military will not have sufficient time to properly implement the policy change. The Pentagon is being deliberately vague about how long the entire procedure would take, but at one point Gates said it could take up to a year.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), head of the Armed Services Committee, said after the vote that he hopes the repeal will be implemented "sooner rather than later."

"Making this change is simply a matter of leadership," he said.

Levin praised the military's top leadership for their professionalism on the matter. He specifically paid tribute to Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen for telling the Senate during a hearing that allowing gay military personnel to serve openly was a matter of integrity. Mullen's remarks "gave momentum to this effort," Levin said.

Advocacy groups in support of the repeal praised the Senate's actions today, but given the repeal's pending status, were measured in their responses.

"This vote today marks a critical step toward creating a path that could end in lesbian, gay and bisexual people finally being able to serve openly, honestly, and to great benefit of our country," Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said in a statement. "It's time to end this costly and discriminatory policy. Until then, the lives and careers of thousands of courageous, qualified and patriotic service members will continue to hang in the balance."



Stephanie Condon is a political reporter for CBSNews.com. You can read more of her posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.