Advocates are advising military gays to stay in the closet for now, as the Pentagon begins months of scene-setting to make sure removing the ban does not hurt combat readiness.
Once President Obama signs the gay-ban repeal, passed by Congress last week, it will trigger a new phase that will see the Pentagon dictate to commanders how to prepare troops for the historic social change.
During that time, the "don't ask, don't tell" ban will remain in effect.
"The bottom line, for now, gay, lesbian and bisexual service members must remain cautiously closeted," said Trevor Thomas, spokesman for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a leader in the campaign to end the ban. "Even with this historic vote, service members must continue to serve in silence until repeal is final."
The organization has a hot line for gay troops to speak confidentially with staff attorneys.
It also has asked Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to suspend don't ask, don't tell (DADT) investigations during the phase-in.
Aaron Belkin, who directs the Palm Center, which does pro-gay research, said, "I tell them that DADT is still the law of the land, and that if they come out, they could be discharged."
Mr. Gates made no mention of investigations when he issued a statement outlining the next steps.
"It is therefore important that our men and women in uniform understand that while today's historic vote means that this policy will change, the implementation and certification process will take an additional period of time," he said. "In the meantime, the current law and policy will remain in effect."
None of the chiefs of the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps or Navy supported repeal outright, with Gen. James Amos, the Marine commandant, openly opposing it. He said integration of open gays in a time of war would create distractions for his Marines that might lead to battlefield casualties.
But the chiefs saluted after the Senate's vote over the weekend.
"Fidelity is the essence of the United States Marine Corps," Gen. Amos said. "Above all else, we are loyal to the Constitution, our commander in chief, Congress, our chain of command and the American people.
"As stated during my testimony before Congress in September and again during hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month, the Marine Corps will step out smartly to faithfully implement this new policy. I, and the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, will personally lead this effort, thus ensuring the respect and dignity due all Marines."
A Pentagon survey released last month showed more than 60 percent of Marines believe open gays will hurt combat effectiveness. A large percentage of Marines said they would leave the Corps sooner than planned or think about exiting if the ban was lifted.
After the repeal is signed into law, three stages begin:
• First, the Pentagon will adopt regulations and communicate the importance of leadership.
• Second, Mr. Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, must certify to Congress that ending the ban will not harm the force.
• Third, there is a 60-day waiting period, after which military gays may become open about their sexuality.
Elaine Donnelly, who heads the Center for Military Readiness and helped stop President Bill Clinton from ending the ban in 1993, predicted the force will indeed be harmed.
She criticized elements of the Pentagon's November report that said troops must share berthing and showers with open gays. They also must undergo education classes that Mrs. Donnelly said will force them to change their attitudes and moral beliefs.
"A thorough reading of the entire report and its recommendations reveals not a single point or argument showing consequences that would benefit the all-volunteer force," Mrs. Donnelly said. "The elitism and arrogance behind these flawed recommendations will cause years of harmful consequences, which our troops did nothing to deserve. History will hold accountable every legislator who voted to make it happen."
Mr. Gates and the chiefs said they will make it work.
"Successful implementation will depend upon strong leadership, a clear message and proactive education throughout the force," the defense secretary said. "With a continued and sustained commitment to core values of leadership, professionalism and respect for all, I am convinced that the U.S. military can successfully accommodate and implement this change, as it has others in history."
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