Pentagon poised to end ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’

Statement from Panetta expected today; ban will end 60 days after Obama’s OK

By Ed O’Keefe and Craig Whitlock
Washington Post / July 22, 2011

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WASHINGTON - President Obama’s administration is expected to announce today that the Pentagon is ready to permit gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military, allowing Obama to bring a formal end to the policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell,’’ said a US official and others familiar with the plans.

In accordance with a law passed in December that authorized repealing the ban on gays serving openly in the military, Obama must receive notice from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and top officers that the military is prepared to end the policy before the government stops enforcing it.

Panetta is ready to verify that military readiness and recruiting will not be harmed by the repeal, according to the official and other sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the Pentagon’s conclusions have not yet been announced.

The policy will end 60 days after Obama formally certifies the repeal in writing to Congress.

Once the nearly two-decade-old ban ends, gays and lesbians serving in military uniform will be able to reveal their sexual identity without fear of dismissal or official rebuke, openly gay men and women will be able to enlist in the military, and gay couples may be allowed to wed at military chapels and live together on military bases in states that recognize same-sex marriages.

But several unresolved issues remain regarding military spousal benefits for gay couples, including potential housing options and survivor benefits. Complicating any resolution is that the Defense of Marriage Act, which bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages, will keep same-sex military couples from enjoying full spousal benefits.

Obama announced support this week for legislation to repeal the marriage act, which gay rights activists say would be necessary for gay couples to earn full acceptance in the military.

The bulk of the military has been trained on the new law, including a complex swath of details about how the change will or will not affect transfers or other health and social benefits.

On the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, gay service members contacted in recent weeks said they do not expect to publicly disclose their sexual orientation right away.

Soldiers stationed in Afghanistan reported that despite the completion of mandatory training programs in recent months, colleagues and commanding officers have been using gay slurs or making gay jokes.

In Iraq, training courses ended weeks ago, and troops said they do not anticipate the policy change would adversely affect operations.

“I don’t think there’s any issue with it whatsoever,’’ Major General Jeffrey Buchanan, the chief spokesman for US forces in Iraq, said in an interview. “And if there are individual issues, then people will have to either conform or make a decision to leave when they can.’’

Former Defense secretary Robert Gates, who retired at the end of June, said in an interview that he saw no roadblocks to the repeal and that people had been “mildly and pleasantly surprised at the lack of pushback in the training.’’

Dubbed “don’t ask, don’t tell,’’ the policy was adopted during President Clinton’s administration and has come under an onslaught of legal challenges, including a federal court ruling in early July that ordered the government to immediately stop enforcing the gay ban.

Days later, however, the Obama administration appealed the ruling, saying that abruptly ending the ban would complicate the orderly process for repeal that had already been set in motion.

A San Francisco appeals court agreed but added a caveat: The government cannot investigate, penalize, or discharge anyone for being openly gay.

Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island and a former Army Ranger, said in a statement yesterday that the ban was “an ineffective policy that prevented talented, highly skilled soldiers from honorably serving our nation.’’

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a national organization representing gay troops, said Panetta’s action is welcomed by gay and lesbian troops “who have had to serve their country in silence for far too long.’’

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.