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WASHINGTON — The Senate faces another crucial “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal vote Saturday morning, one that supporters now believe will help end the controversial law banning gays from serving openly in the ranks.

Supporters need at least 60 votes on Saturday to overcome a threatened filibuster and advance the repeal bill. They’ve already failed to reach that mark twice this year, falling three votes short of repealing the law as part of the defense authorization bill earlier this month. Many on both sides of the debate viewed that defeat as a death knell for the repeal effort.

But Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., said he believes at least 61 senators will support the stand-alone measure, including several Republicans who have publicly stated that they believe the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law is outdated and harmful to the military. If Senators vote to advance the bill, final approval would require only a simple majority, which could come early next week.

The bill easily passed the House of Representatives on Wednesday.

Fifty-seven members of the Senate Democratic caucus have publicly backed a repeal, and earlier this month Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, co-sponsored the repeal legislation. In addition, three other Republican senators — Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Olympia Snowe of Maine — have publicly said they would support a stand-alone repeal measure.

After initially announcing that a vote on the measure might not take place until after Christmas, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced late Thursday that he’d speed up the process.

The unusual weekend voting session reflects the crowded legislative schedule in the waning days of the lame-duck Congress. But Senate Democrats and gay rights groups praised the move, claiming it gives them their best chance yet to repeal the law.

If the measure fails again Saturday, it could be years before supporters have another opportunity in Congress to repeal the law. Republicans will take over the House next session, and their party leadership opposes a change in the law.

If the measure succeeds, troops won’t see any immediate changes in the policy. The bill mandates that the president and Pentagon certify an implementation plan for a repeal before gay troops could serve openly, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said he would not agree to that until the military service chiefs are comfortable that a repeal won’t disrupt combat operations overseas.

Pentagon officials would not say if they expect that process to take months or years, but Gates has testified to the Senate that he wants the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law repealed as soon as possible.

shanel@stripes.osd.mil

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