Gay groups are protesting the
military's urging to Congress to delay repeal of “Don't Ask, Don't
Tell,” the 1993 law that forbids gay troops from serving openly.
In a letter to Representative Ike
Skelton signed by both Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, the men said they
“strongly oppose” lifting the gay ban before the Pentagon
completes its review of how best to implement changes should Congress
repeal the law. The study – ordered by Gates – is due in
“Our military must be afforded the
opportunity to inform us of their concerns, insights and suggestions
if we are to carry out this change successfully,” Gates and Mullen
The letter is a response to a request
from Skelton, the Missouri Democrat who heads the House Armed
Services Committee. Skelton does not support repeal of the gay ban.
In a statement issued late Friday, the
White House said it supported the military's recommendation for
“The president's commitment to
repealing 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is unequivocal. This is not a
question of if, but how. That's why we've said that the
implementation of any congressional repeal will be delayed until the
DOD study of how best to implement that repeal is completed. The
president is committed to getting this done both soon and right.”
Gay groups immediately protested the
military's push to delay repeal this year.
“With all due respect to Secretary
Gates, it is Congress that determines the legislative schedule, not
the Secretary of Defense,” Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of
Defense Network, a group that lobbies for repeal of the law,
said. “Congressional leaders and repeal advocates may need to give
the Pentagon leaders a gentle reminder.”
Sarvis said that his group “repudiates
the delay game plan” being coordinated by Skelton, Gates, Mullen
and the White House.
Joe Solmonese, president of the Human
Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay rights advocate, is quoted
by the AP saying that delay would send the message to gay troops that
“the impact on them and their families does not matter to the
military leadership, including their commander in chief.”
Most supporters of repeal concede
passage in the Senate will be difficult and had hoped to avoid a
direct confrontation by tucking repeal language into next year's
defense budget. The window to act, however, is quickly coming to a
close as markups for the 2011 defense authorization bill on both
sides of Congress are expected to take place within the next 3 weeks.
A House vote may come as early as May 24.
Sarvis challenged the notion that
supporting the Pentagon's study requires ending legislative action
and urged the president to comment.
“This objective can be accomplished
by amending both the House and Senate bills to expressly provide for
the Pentagon recommendations to be received and considered by the
Armed Services Committees before any repeal is final,” he said.
“There is no need to bring the legislative repeal effort to a
screeching halt to ensure that the views of the Pentagon Working
Group are carefully and respectfully considered.”
Michigan Senator Carl Levin, chairman
of the Senate Armed Service Committee, is expected to sponsor repeal
language in the defense budget in the Senate, while Representative
Patrick Murphy, a Pennsylvania Democrat, is considered the most
likely to offer the legislation in the House.