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Brown helps block gay military ban repeal debate

STEVE LEBLANC

Sen. Scott Brown voted last week to block debate on a repeal of the federal ban on gays serving openly in the military, arguing that the Senate should first vote on a tax package.

Brown’s vote on Thursday came just a week after he announced he was ready to support a repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law, provided that the battle readiness of U.S. forces is guaranteed.

A spokesman for the Massachusetts Republican said Thursday that Brown has been clear that he would not vote to repeal the law until after the Senate takes a vote on a tax package.

“Sen. Brown has said we need to prevent the looming tax hike and fund the government before we move forward with other legislation,” spokesman Colin Reed said in a statement. “He supports repealing ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ once those issues have been addressed.”

The 57-40 test vote fell three votes short of the 60 needed to advance.

In his statement last week Brown did not say that he would block the repeal until after action on taxes, although his aides said that was his plan.

The tax deal announced last week by President Barack Obama would let rich and poor Americans keep Bush-era tax cuts that were scheduled to expire this month. It has yet to come up for a vote in the Senate.

Democratic Sen. John Kerry voted Thursday to allow debate on repeal of the military gay ban. He said he was disappointed the bill was blocked even though 60 senators have expressed support for repeal.

“The troops on the ground have overwhelmingly agreed it won’t affect unit cohesion. So what’s left?” Kerry said in a statement. “If not now, when? We’re not giving up, and our time will come, but today’s vote is baffling.”

Brown said last week that he’d support the repeal of the gay ban after he reviewed a Pentagon report, spoke with active and retired military service members and met privately with Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

“When a soldier answers the call to serve, and risks life or limb, it has never mattered to me whether they are gay or straight,” Brown said is a written statement last week. “My only concern has been whether their service and sacrifice is with pride and honor.”

It was the first time Brown, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, had publicly expressed support for repeal of the law.

Gay activists who had praised Brown last week said they were disappointed with his decision to block debate on the repeal.

“There is nothing courageous about his saying he would vote to repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ as he did last week, only to hide behind a procedural maneuver,” said MassEquality Executive Director Kara Suffredini. “Today, Scott Brown thumbed his nose at the supermajority of Americans, Massachusetts citizens, and service members who support the repeal.”

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., criticized Republican senators who were blocking the repeal by first insisting on a vote on the tax package saying “they are trying to run out the clock and just don’t want to get this bill done.”

The 1993 law bans gay troops from publicly acknowledging their sexual orientation. A repeal provision was included in a broader defense policy bill and passed last spring in the House.

Kerry again pointed to a recent Pentagon study that found that a minority of troops – about 30 percent – predicted potential problems if “don’t ask, don’t tell” were repealed.

The study also found that nearly 60 percent of Marine Corps and Army combat troops said they thought allowing gays to be open about their sexual orientation would hurt their units’ ability to fight on the battlefield.

Obama has vowed to repeal the ban.

Associated Press