http://www.cnn.com/2010/POLITICS/12/18/senate.dadt/index.html?hpt=T1&iref=BN1Washington (CNN) -- The military's prohibition of openly gay people serving within its ranks is one step closer to ending, after the Senate voted Saturday to repeal the armed forces' "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
Eight Republicans and independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut joined the chamber's Democrats to back the legislation, which passed by a 65-31 margin. The bill needed a simple majority -- meaning support from 51 of the Senate's 100 members -- to pass.
"I want to thank all of the gay men and women who are fighting for us today," said Sen. Susan Collins, of Maine, one of several Republicans who voted for the measure. "We honor your service, and now we can do so openly."
President Barack Obama will sign the bill into law next week, White House press secretary said in a Twitter post moments after the Senate vote.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, applauded Congress's action, which he said "preserves the military's prerogative to implement change in a responsible, deliberate manner."
"It is the right thing to do," he said in a statement. "No longer will able men and women who want to serve and sacrifice for their country have to sacrifice their integrity to do so. We will be a better military as a result."
The House of Representatives had comfortably passed the measure -- by a 250 to 175 margin -- last Wednesday. Four days later, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-California, cheered the Senate for following suit.
"Today's landmark vote closes the door on a fundamental unfairness," Pelosi said in a statement. "It reflects a core principle in our nation: that anyone who wishes to serve, secure and defend this country should be welcomed, judged by their abilities, and honored for their sacrifice."
Earlier on Saturday, the lame-duck Senate session invoked cloture, meaning it cut off or limited debate on the socially historic and controversial legislation, by a vote of 63 to 33. At least 60 votes were required to overcome the procedural hurdle, and Republicans did not seek up to 30 hours of post-cloture debate, as they could have under the chamber's rules.
Saying it's "time to close this chapter in our history," Obama called the move a "historic step" toward ending the policy that denied the "service of thousands of patriotic Americans forced to leave the military, despite years of exemplary performance, because they happen to be gay."
"I am also absolutely convinced that making this change will only underscore the professionalism of our troops as the best led and best trained fighting force the world has ever known," said Obama, who thanked pro-repeal senators for their work.
"It is time to allow gay and lesbian Americans to serve their country openly," he said. "I urge the Senate to send this bill to my desk so that I can sign it into law."
After the cloture vote, supporters of the repeal hugged and shook hands in the corridor off the Senate floor, a celebratory mood for a Democratic caucus that will face tougher times when the new Congress convenes next year.
"Today, America lived up to its highest ideals of freedom and equality. Congress recognized that all men and women have the right to openly serve their country," said Joe Solmonese, the president of the Human Rights Campaign -- a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equal rights group. "Plenty of people had already planned the funeral for this legislation. Today, we pulled out a victory from what was almost certain defeat just a few days ago. We are grateful to President Obama, Majority Leader Reid and Sens. Lieberman, Collins and countless others for their dogged determination to repeal DADT."
The executive director of Servicemembers United, the nation's largest organization of gay and lesbian troops, lauded the cloture vote as a "historic step forward for this country" and "very likely be a life-changing moment for gay and lesbian troops."
Alexander Nicholson, a former multi-lingual Army interrogator discharged under the policy, said there's still "a long road ahead, citing "a final passage vote, the certification process, and a yet-to-be-determined implementation period."
But, he said, "those who defend our freedom while living in fear for their careers will finally breathe a sigh of relief tonight, and those who have fallen victim to this policy in years past will finally begin to see true closure and redemption on the horizon."
Passage of the legislation in the Senate was a political victory for Obama and the Democrats, who have called for a repeal.
The Democrats have sought Republican support for overturning the ban, and eight of them voted for a repeal including:
Sens. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Richard Burr of North Carolina, John Ensign of Nevada and George Voinovich of Ohio.
Pentagon officials have warned gay and lesbian soldiers that the current law will temporarily remain in place if the bill passes as they review the legal technicalities of the repeal.
A guidance memo would be sent to military personnel informing them of the change, which would remain in effect for at least 60 days after it is signed into law, Pentagon spokesman Col. David Lapan said.
Proponents of the repeal say the current policy is discriminatory and counter-productive because thousands of service members, from linguists to troops, have been removed under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
Voinovich indicated he made up his mind after the release of the Defense Department's report earlier this month on the policy.
"Having reviewed the report, I accept its findings and Secretary Gates' recommendation and reassurance that the repeal will be implemented when the battle effectiveness of our forces is assured and proper preparations have been completed."
He said the repeal "will be implemented in a common sense way" and "our military leaders have assured Congress that our troops will engage in training and address relevant issues before instituting this policy change."
Opponents say the repeal will scrap a good policy and will hurt the military's performance.
Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-South Carolina, cited the Marine Corps commandant as saying he believes that "changing this policy this way would cause distraction among the Marine Corps to the point that he is worried about increased casualties."
"Let's hope he's wrong," Graham said Saturday, "but you've got to ask yourself is he crazy to say that? Is he the kind of man who would make such a chilling statement without having thought about it? My advice to my colleagues is that the Marine Corps commandant is a serious man who is telling this body and this nation that repeal as being envisioned today could compromise focus on the battlefield, and we are in two wars."