WASHINGTON – Reversing course, Army Secretary John McHugh warned soldiers Thursday that they still can be discharged for acknowledging they are gay, saying he misspoke earlier this week when he suggested the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy had been temporarily suspended.
The public stumble by a senior service official is an indication of the issue’s legal complexity. The Pentagon has said it wants to hear from gay troops as it conducts a broad study on how it could lift the ban, as President Barack Obama wants.
But to do that, gay service members would have to break the law, which prohibits them from discussing their sexual orientation.
Defense Department officials say they plan to hire an outside contractor to survey the troops, and that gay troops won’t be punished for sharing their views with that third party.
“Until Congress repeals ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ it remains the law of the land and the Department of the Army and I will fulfill our obligation to uphold it,” McHugh said Thursday.
Earlier in the week, when pressed by reporters, McHugh said he wouldn’t try to discharge service members who in private conversations with him acknowledged being gay. With regard to three soldiers who told McHugh they were gay, McHugh said he probably should have told them that they were violating the law and their conversation couldn’t necessarily be kept confidential.
But he said he won’t pursue administrative action against those individuals.