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Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the Independent Democrat from Connecticut, announced Monday that he will sponsor legislation to repeal the military's ban on openly gay service members.
He won't be the first; Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., a fellow member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has been the chief advocate for change in the Senate. But Lieberman's announcement that he wants to lead the charge for a change in law is one of the first signs that it may be possible to get the 60 votes needed in the Senate to overcome procedural roadblocks.
Lieberman, a former Democrat who has been closely aligned with, and supported the presidential bid of, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said in a statement that he "will be proud to be a sponsor of the important effort to enable patriotic gay Americans to defend our national security and our founding values of freedom and opportunity."
"I have opposed the current policy of preventing gay Americans from openly serving in the military since its enactment in 1993," Lieberman said in the statement. "To exclude one group of Americans from serving in the armed forces is contrary to our fundamental principles ... and weakens our defenses by denying our military the service of a large group of Americans who can help our cause."
Sponsoring legislation to allow gays to openly serve in the military would put Lieberman at odds with McCain, the Senate Armed Services Committee's ranking Republican.
Although McCain in the past said he would be willing to support repeal of the law if military leaders asked for a change, he was not persuaded by testimony from Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, that the time for change has come. McCain said he was "disappointed" in their testimony and did not see reason to change a policy on gays that seemed to be working.
The Senate could get the 60 votes needed to overcome a potential filibuster if all Democrats vote together, which is no sure thing. Some conservative Democrats have been reluctant to announce where they stand on repeal of the gay ban, and the endorsement of Lieberman — who does not consistently vote with either party — does not necessarily mean other senators will follow his lead, said Senate aides who asked not to be identified.