Democrats Finally Deliver on a Gay-Rights Promise

Updated 7:12 p.m.
The clock has almost run out on House Democrats' time in power in Washington, and in the waning days of the 111th Congress their Senate colleagues rushed to take advantage of the lame duck House majority to make good on a major legislative promise -- while also failing Saturday to make headway on another.

The military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy will end, as Senate Democrats won over a handful of their Republican colleagues to support a repeal Saturday morning, first breaking a filibuster with 63 votes and then sending a bill to President Obama's desk with 65 "yes" votes Saturday afternoon.

Obama will sign the repeal into law this coming week, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said.

The conclusion of the long drama over DADT comes after two years of sometimes-rocky relations between gay-rights activists dissatisfied over the administration's failure to move faster on DADT and marriage rights.

Obama came into office promising a White House friendly to gay rights, but activists were frustrated that the new president did not move swiftly to repeal policies instituted under the last Democratic president, Bill Clinton.

Obama has at times been difficult to interpret, from a gay-rights perspective, dating back to his campaign, when he said repeatedly that he defines marriage as something that happens, exclusively, "between a man and a woman." His Justice Department has defended the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which Clinton signed in 1996.

Even as he welcomed gay-rights activists to "your White House" for a reception in June of 2009, some gay-rights leaders groused privately over the administration's policy stances. A prominent activist who attended the reception described it as a feel-good event that did little to advance a policy agenda.

This post was updated at 3:58 p.m. on Saturday.

Gay-rights activists openly heckled Obama at a Democratic fundraiser in Los Angeles this past May. When asked about the heckling, organizers of gay-rights groups said they understood where it came from.

Obama tried to avoid preaching patience, since gay-rights supporters have seen DADT as an indefensible civil-rights violation, and asking DADT's opponents to wait patiently did not sit well. But there was little he could do, other than work slowly. Activists initially demanded that Obama reverse the military's policy unilaterally, and the administration spent its first months explaining the hard reality that DADT could only be ended by Congress.

Now, the promise to gay-rights activists has been delivered, and another could be on the way. As DADT ends, the court challenge to California's Proposition 8 gay-marriage ban looks promising as it advances through federal courts.

On their two main policy points, DADT and marriage, gay-rights activists are on the cusp of victory.

Saturday's vote followed a shift in legislative strategy by Democrats, ending the convoluted process that led to DADT's ultimate repeal.

Presented by

Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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