Updated: March 25, 2011 4:13PM
Republican Mark Kirk broke with his majority of his party Saturday to support repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays in the military, casting one of the first high-profile votes he’s faced as Illinois’ junior senator.
The Senate voted 65-31 to let gays serve openly in the military. President Barack Obama was expected to sign the legislation next week, although the change wouldn’t take immediate effect. The House had passed an identical version of the bill, 250-175, on Wednesday.
Kirk was one of six Republicans to break ranks. The move was a reversal for him after he’d earlier helped block repeal legislation. A spokesman said as recently as two days ago that Kirk was still undecided on the issue.
But Kirk said in a statement Saturday that he supported repeal based on a recent Pentagon study that concluded the ban could be lifted without hurting the ability of troops to fight.
Kirk was sworn in late last month after winning a special election to fill the remainder of Obama’s old term, which ends in January. A former congressman from Chicago’s northern suburbs, Kirk also won a full six-year term of his own that starts in January.
The “don’t ask, don’t tell” legislation says the president and his top military advisers must certify that lifting the ban won’t hurt troops’ fighting ability. After that, there’s a 60-day waiting period for the military. Kirk said he believed the bill gave military leaders the time they had requested to make the change.
And given recent court challenges to the ban and conflicting judicial orders regarding its enforcement, Kirk said he felt the time had come for Congress to act.
“As a 21-year Navy Reserve officer, I believe it is important for military leaders, not federal judges, to run our armed forces,” he said.