- The Washington Times - Friday, November 21, 2008

EXCLUSIVE:

President-elect Barack Obama will not move for months, and perhaps not until 2010, to ask Congress to end the military’s decades-old ban on open homosexuals in the ranks, two people who have advised the Obama transition team on this issue say.

Repealing the ban was an Obama campaign promise. However, Mr. Obama first wants to confer with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and his new political appointees at the Pentagon to reach a consensus and then present legislation to Congress, the advisers said.

“I think 2009 is about foundation building and reaching consensus,” said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. The group supports military personnel targeted under the ban.

Mr. Sarvis told The Washington Times that he has held “informal discussions” with the Obama transition team on how the new president should proceed on the potentially explosive issue.

Lawrence Korb, an analyst at the Center for American Progress and an adviser to the Obama campaign, said the new administration should set up a Pentagon committee to make recommendations to Congress on a host of manpower issues, including the gay ban.

“If it’s part of a larger package, it has a better chance of getting passed,” he said.

The Obama transition team did not reply to a request for comment.

The incoming administration is well aware of how President Clinton botched the same issue 15 years ago. Shortly after taking office in 1993, the president ordered the Pentagon to rescind the regulation that excluded gays.

On Capitol Hill, Republicans, and some leading Democrats, including then-Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn of Georgia, objected. Retired military officers and a number of pro-military conservative activist groups joined the fight.

Mr. Clinton backed off. Congress ended up enacting the ban into law as part of U.S. Title 10 which regulates the military.

As a compromise, the White House and congressional leaders wrote a new policy known as “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Under it, gay service members must keep their sexuality private or face expulsion. About 12,500 people have been discharged under the policy.

Today, gay activists cite national polls that show public sentiment, unlike in 1993, support removing the ban.

Mr. Sarvis expressed optimism that Democratic gains in the past two elections make it “more likely” Congress will let gays serve openly.

“I think the congressional results are a factor in our optimism,” he said. He added that no vote count has been taken.

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