Saturday, Dec. 18 should stand in our memories as a proud day with the U.S. Senate’s vote to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, a 17-year-old policy that forced gay members of the military to hide their sexuality or face expulsion from the military. Even better that it would be a footnote in the history of our country’s gradual move toward uniform civil rights for all citizens. We are proud that our own Sen. Susan Collins helped lead the charge to repeal the discriminatory law, especially since it was not the popular choice among her fellow Republicans. Keep up the good work, Senator.

The military, like all branches of government, should reflect who we are as a nation. Before the decision was made to abolish racial discrimination in the military in the 1950s, or before women were admitted into military service academies during the 1970s, our nation did not include only Caucasian males. As the Senate acknowledged Saturday, our nation also includes many people who are gay, an ineffable fact as real as skin color or gender.

Realistically, we know we still have a long way to go before all people in our nation are accepted simply for who they are, and in a way that has nothing to do with religion, race, gender or sexual orientation — recall Matthew Shepard, a young man who was brutally murdered in Wyoming in 1998 after two men discovered he was gay. Discrimination in all its forms is still a daily fact of life for all but the most secretively gay citizens.

Some have argued that allowing openly gay Americans to serve their country should have been left up to those who are currently serving in the military, but this belief is misinformed, as our military branches are not independent from the rest of the United States.

While not all of us are serving in the armed forces, we all help cover the growing expense of the defense budget each year through taxation. The President of the United States and the Commander in Chief of the armed forces are one and the same. It’s an elected position that requires no military background or qualifications.

In fact, outside oversight is the norm in many areas of government, from the federal level to our local governments right here in Waldo County.

A volunteer budget committee, as is reported in the pages of this week’s paper, has the final word on the Waldo County budget process. And while the committee considers recommendations from the county’s elected and appointed officials who could argue that they are more knowledgable about the details and overarching logic of the budget, it’s volunteers who make the final decision on the budget.

In our schools, administrators, teachers and support staff must conduct their work under the guidance of a Board of Directors, a group of elected officials that may or may not include people with a background in education.

Despite some of the fearmongering on Capitol Hill prior to the vote in favor of repeal, it appears most of our servicemen and women would have come to the same conclusion the Senate did. According to the results of a Pentagon survey, 70 percent of those who are currently serving said allowing openly gay people to serve would have positive, mixed or no affect on the military. That, in large part, is why we have no use for the statements of some military officials who suggested that the presence of gays and lesbians would cause an increase in casualties due to the unspecified “distractions” — their word, not ours — that a lifting of the ban would cause.

The Washington Post reported that more than 13,000 servicemen and women have been forced out of military service as a direct result of DADT. That, we feel, is a huge loss. How many of those people would have been highly effective leaders, who would have served their country well, and maybe saved a few lives along the way? We’ll never know, but hopefully, moving forward, all who wish to serve — regardless of their sexual orientation — will have the equal chance to prove that they, too, have what it takes to be one of this nation’s many heroes.