In testimony Tuesday before a key
Senate panel, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced that the
military would conduct a year-long study on how to lift “don't ask,
don't tell,” the policy that bans gay troops from serving openly in
the Armed Forces.
“The question before us not whether
the military prepares to make this change but how we best prepare for
it,” Gates said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services
Gates explained that the working group
would be co-chaired by Jen. C. Johnson, the Pentagon's top legal
counsel, and General Carter Ham, the commander of the United States
Army in Europe and would study how best to implement changes should
Congress repeal the law.
Gates also said the military would
consider altering implementation of the law.
“We believe that we have a degree of
latitude within the existing law to change our internal procedures in
a manner that is more appropriate and fair to our men and women in
uniform,” he said.
Gates has previously questioned the
need to take actions against service members when they've been outed
out of vengeance or after being jilted.
“If someone is outed by a third party
… does that force us to take an action?” he rhetorically asked
reporters last July.
“That's the kind of thing we're
looking at to see if there's a more humane way to apply the law until
the law gets changed,” Gates added.
Recommendations on the matter are
expected within 45 days, Gates said.
Also testifying was Admiral Mike
Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Mullen said he
believed the policy should be repealed.
“It is my personal and professional
belief that allowing homosexuals to serve openly would be the right
thing to do,” Mullen said. “No matter how I look at the issue, I
cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a
policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in
order to defend their fellow citizens.”
Gay groups lobbying for repeal cheered
the Pentagon's testimony.
“We strongly applaud Secretary Gates
supporting the president's view that 'don't ask, don't tell' needs to
go,” Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal
Defense Network (SLDN), said in a statement. “We also strongly
applaud Chairman Mullen, who unambiguously [and] personally supported
gays and lesbians serving openly.”
Republicans on the panel, led by
Arizona Senator John McCain, appeared united against repeal.
McCain, who recently called the policy
“successful,” declared himself “deeply disappointed” in
“At this moment of immense hardship
for our armed services, we should not be seeking to overturn the
'don't ask,don't tell' policy,” McCain said.
A House bill that would repeal the
“don't ask” policy sponsored by Pennsylvania Representative
Patrick Murphy, a decorated Iraq veteran, is 31 votes short of the
218 needed for passage. A Senate version of the bill has yet to be
introduced, though it's widely expected that Connecticut Senator
Joseph Lieberman will sponsor such a measure.
A recent UCLA
study found 66,000 gay, lesbian and bisexual people are currently
serving in the Armed Forces, approximately 2.2% of all military
personnel, and the military has spent up to $500 million implementing
the gay ban.