Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates yesterday outlined the Pentagon’s plans on gays in the military, telling Congress he will scale back enforcement of the law that bans open homosexuality in the ranks and has launched a yearlong review of how to handle the ban’s repeal, which the Obama administration will seek.
The announcement prompted advocates for lifting the ban to complain that the review is unnecessary and too long.
Mr. Gates said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that military policy will be reviewed and that gay troops will be treated “in a fairer manner,” suggesting that the military will no longer discharge service members accused of homosexuality by former partners or other third parties.
“The question before us is not whether the military prepares to make this change, but how we best prepare for it,” Mr. Gates said. “We received our orders from the commander in chief, and we are moving out accordingly.”
President Obama had promised to end the 1993 policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell” during the first year of his presidency and announced during last week’s State of the Union speech that the law should be repealed.
A yearlong delay is likely to complicate efforts to change the law, as Republicans and some centrist Democrats are wary of political backlash. Many gay groups that supported Mr. Obama during the presidential campaign have expressed disappointment at delays in efforts to lift the ban.
Current and former military officers who oppose lifting the ban, including retired Gen. Carl E. Mundy, former Marine Corps commandant, have said that such social engineering should not be carried out while U.S. military forces are stressed from fighting wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.
Proponents of lifting the ban say the issue is one of fairness.
The issue is expected to trigger a major political debate, similar to the battle in the early 1990s that ended up codifying the ban in law, but changed the policy so that gays were not asked about their sexual orientation before joining the military.
According to defense officials, Gen. James T. Conway, Marine commandant and Joint Chiefs member, is leading efforts within the Pentagon to oppose the repeal.
An outspoken opponent of lifting the ban, Elaine Donnelly of the Livonia, Mich.-based Center for Military Readiness, said the plan presented by Mr. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to limit enforcement of the ban is unworkable and will undermine the law.
“Such a plan would create an incentive for ‘third parties’ to guarantee retention of gay partners in the military, simply by identifying their partner as gay,” she said in a statement.
“Homosexuals would become a protected class under standards different from everyone else,” she said. “This would constitute a clear violation of the 1993 law stating that homosexuals are not eligible for military service, and establish a double standard that, in the name of ‘consistency,’ weakens discipline across the board.”
Kevin Nix, a spokesman for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a gay rights group, told The Washington Times that although his organization is “pleased and feeling positive” about the Pentagon plan, he is concerned that a one-year study is “too long and not necessary.”