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McEntee: Two votes — one a win, one a loss

Published December 20, 2010 5:32 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

This past weekend, the U.S. Senate cast two crucial votes — one on whether to repeal the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy and one on the Dream Act.

When it was over, the LGBT community exulted, although with a bit of reserve, since more must be done to fully implement the change. But countless educated, hard-working and, yes, undocumented young people, brought to the United States by their immigrant parents, wept in disappointment.

On the one side, smart, dedicated, current and former members of the military were told that their sexual orientation would no longer be a barrier to serving their country.

On the other, smart, dedicated students were told that their status — not of their own making — would remain as is: stateless in the only nation most can even remember.

If there is an upside to the Dream Act defeat, the Senate vote of 55 to 31 is in itself historic, says Karen Crompton, executive director of Voices for Utah Children. It was only five votes short of passage, and earlier this month the U.S. House endorsed the measure by a 216 to 198 margin.

"It's not going to go away," Crompton said. Even though it will face opposition by the reconstituted Congress after January, "demographics and time are on the side of the Dream supporters."

Sadly, Sen. Bob Bennett, who voted for the bill, won't be around to do that again. But on Saturday, he stood tall and said aye. He was, after all, one of the original sponsors.

Not so much with Sen. Orrin Hatch, who turned his back on the bill, probably because he knows he's in the electoral cross hairs in 2012.

"Hatch showed sympathy for the Dreamers," Crompton said, "but we needed his vote, not his sympathy."

Meanwhile, Utah Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, said any vote for the Dream Act would only "reward the behavior of those who break the rule of law."

Well, two things: First, being here without documentation is a civil infraction. Second, simply being here through no wrongdoing of their own doesn't mean those students are willfully flouting the law.

Where are they to go? To these students, this is home.

As for the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," Valerie Larabee, executive director of the Utah Pride Center, has a story to tell.

She served for 10 years in the U.S. Air Force, joining up after earning a master's degree and becoming an officer after a 90-day stint in Officer Training School.

She left in 1995 after "doing a good job of having multiple personalities" to survive the difficulties of being a gay woman in the service.

There will be difficult times to come, she said. Homophobia still exists in the military, and commanders need to understand that in moving forward.

Still, "this is a pivotal moment" for the gay-rights movement, Larabee said. "There are a lot of pillars underneath the umbrella topic of gay rights. It's a very important pillar for us to have stood up [for repeal] so strongly."

Gay men and women have fought and died for their country. Under the Dream Act, undocumented students will have the same opportunity. A segment of the path to citizenship is two years of military service or two years of college.

And they must show "good moral character."

Seems to me those young people already have. They've done well in school, worked to pay college tuition and became involved in the political system.

They're not about to give up.

Never forget: The United States was created by immigrants, many of whom have flourished here through hard work. They've made countless contributions to our culture and economy, as has the gay community.

It's what an enlightened society should not only accept, but celebrate.

Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at pegmcentee@sltrib.com.