July 22, 2011 in Nation/World

Panetta to support openly gay in military

Law lifting ban requires Defense certification
David S. Cloud Tribune Washington bureau

(Full-size photo)

WASHINGTON – Pentagon officials will announce today that the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the armed services can be lifted without harming military readiness, a step that is likely to end the controversial “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in September, Defense Department officials said.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are recommending to President Barack Obama that he proceed with final repeal of the policy in place for nearly two decades, the officials said.

Congress voted to repeal the 1993 “don’t ask, don’t tell” law last December but delayed ending the ban until top Pentagon officials and the president could certify that the change would not adversely affect the military. Congress ordered that the ban cease to be enforced 60 days after the certification.

Repeal of the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly will be one of Panetta’s first major acts since taking command of the Pentagon earlier this month. He replaced Robert M. Gates, who had called for eliminating the ban but pushed for a gradual process.

Panetta met recently with the chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines about lifting the ban, officials said.

Pentagon officials who confirmed the decision Thursday evening asked not to be quoted by name because it had not been made public. Spokesmen for Panetta and Mullen declined to comment.

J. Alexander Nicholson III, executive director of Servicemembers United, a nonpartisan organization that represents gay and lesbian military personnel and veterans, praised Panetta for moving ahead with the decision so quickly.

“We are glad to see that just three weeks into his tenure as secretary of defense, he is already confident that this policy change can take place with little or no disruption to military readiness,” Nicholson said.

Since the congressional vote to repeal the law, the military services have been training personnel on how to conduct themselves once the ban is lifted. Numerous senior officials said the training has proceeded without problems.

The issue remains controversial however.

Earlier this month, opponents in the House sought to use a defense spending bill to impede the repeal process.

Even as the Pentagon moved to eliminate the ban, service members have continued to be kicked out for openly acknowledging they are homosexual, and court challenges to the ban have continued.

On July 6, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the military could no longer enforce the ban. The decision halted any military discharges under the policy and prevented recruiters from turning away recruits because of their sexual orientation. The administration appealed the decision even as it moved to terminate the ban.

Until the ban is formally repealed, gay rights advocates have told service members not to disclose publicly if they are homosexual.

Obama promised to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” during his 2008 presidential campaign. Gay rights groups criticized him for not doing so until late last year, when the White House mounted a successful repeal effort in Congress.

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