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Bill may limit, delay end of ‘don’t ask’

Obama could veto defense funding pact on other points

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The House is set to pass legislation that could limit or delay the repeal of the ban on openly gay men and women serving in the military.

Lawmakers began debate on the 2012 National Defense Authorization bill Wednesday afternoon, and were expected to finish considering more than 150 amendments by Thursday night.

The bill contains several provisions that — excepting the unlikely event they are stripped out by a majority vote of the Republican-controlled House — will affect the repeal of the 17-year-old policy known as "don't ask, don't tell," under which gays can serve if they don't reveal their sexual preference.

The administration has said it opposes all the "don't ask" provisions, but has not threatened a veto on that issue — as it has on other parts of the bill.

The veto threats, issued by the White House Tuesday, cover a clause forbidding the transfer of suspected terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba to the U.S. mainland; language that would continue a program to build an alternative engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter that officials say is unnecessary; and provisions that seek to dial back cuts to the U.S. nuclear stockpile envisaged by the New START pact with Moscow.

The House was set to pass the bill with all three of those provisions included, setting the stage for a confrontation with the Democratic-controlled Senate, which has yet to consider its version of the bill, and possibly with the White House.

If President Obama were to veto the defense bill, it would be the first time any president since Jimmy Carter has done so.

Those provisions and the ones affecting "don't ask" were added by the House Armed Services Committee during its markup earlier this month.

At the moment, the repeal law says the current ban on open gays serving will end 60 days after the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the defense secretary and the president all certify that the armed services are ready and that lifting the ban will not affect the military's ability to fight.

But a provision of the House bill also would require each of the four service chiefs to certify that their branches of the military are ready for the repeal of the policy as well.

Retired Lt. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon, former head of the Army's Pacific command, complained of the administration's "rush to repeal" the gay ban in an interview with The Times earlier this month.

A second provision would reaffirm that, under the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, the military would not recognize gay marriages, even if performed in states where they are legal.

"The administration strongly objects" to these provisions and "believes that section 3 of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is discriminatory, and supports DOMA's repeal," the White House Office of Management and Budget said Tuesday in a statement.

A third provision would ban military bases from being used for, or military chaplains from performing, gay weddings, even in states where they are legal.

A senior House Republican aide said votes on the gay ban repeal certification and the gay marriage measures are expected Thursday or Friday. The aide said Republicans are confident both measures will be retained.

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