The United States formally ends a decades-old ban on open gays in the ranks on Tuesday, a historic day that the military services hope will pass as routinely as roll calls, marching and lights-out.
The Pentagon, after putting all active-duty and reserve troops through months of mandatory indoctrination, generally is playing down the event and has announced no special plans for the repeal of a policy known as “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Gen. Raymond Odierno, the Army chief of staff, “has not indicated he is doing anything special,” said his spokeswoman, Lt. Col. Alayne Conway.
“We will actually be overseas attending a conference in Europe,” she added.
A spokesman for Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta did not respond to a question about whether the secretary planned to make any special remarks.
The Pentagon will send new written policies and regulations Tuesday to augment the months of slide-show training.
“The training focused on the changes in policy affected by the repeal … and the expectations that service members continue to treat each other with dignity and respect,” said spokeswoman Eileen Lainez.
Gay-rights activists, basking in one of their greatest political victories, also sought not to make Sept. 20 an in-your-face day of celebration for the demise of the policy imposed by President Clinton in 1993.
“The most interesting thing that will occur on the 20th is deciding where I will go to lunch at,” said J.D. Smith, the pseudonym for a gay Air Force officer.
“Absolutely nothing new will occur on the 20th. Military members are likely to remember the 20th as the day the season premiere of ‘Glee’ is on rather than the day DADT died,” he added, referring to the policy’s initials.
“Glee” is a Fox TV prime-time series centered on a high school glee club and gay issues.
Mr. Smith founded Outserve, an underground group of gay military personnel and a magazine by the same name. He has won the right to distribute Outserve at Army and Navy exchanges. He plans to declare his homosexuality openly with a book next month titled “Our Time.”
“Being gay in the military is a non-issue, so I will come forward on Sept. 20th,” he said. “The cover will change to my real name as well on that day.”
At the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a group that led the fight in Washington for repeal of the policy, the message to gays is: It’s your choice.
“On September 20, gay and lesbian service members will be able to decide for themselves whether serving openly is something they want to do and can rest assured that they will no longer be fired and lose their careers if they choose to do so,” said spokesman Zeke Stokes.
The group is promoting a number of celebrations across the country, including one Tuesday evening at a Washington bar.
“The repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is an historic milestone along the journey to achieving LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] equality in America's military, and Tuesday is a monumental day for our service members and our nation,” said Aubrey Sarvis, director of the legal defense organization.
“We pay tribute to their service and sacrifice, as we look forward to this new era of military service, an era that honors the contributions of all qualified Americans who have served and who wish to serve,” he said.
Military advocates who have supported “don’t ask, don’t tell” worry that overt gays will harm combat readiness and prompt good combatants to quit or not join at all.
“My concerns are long term. What does the policy change mean for retention and recruitment? What does it mean for morale, cohesion, effectiveness and readiness?” said Robert Maginnis, a retired Army officer and senior fellow at the Family Research Council.
“Much depends on any information about the service of open homosexuals leaking to the press. Supporters will celebrate and claim no impact, but objective researchers must dig below the PR and find the root truth. Too often, the military sucks up bad news, and nothing is said. It will take savvy observers to expose any true problems.”
Gay-rights activists say they do not know for sure how many homosexuals are in the military. The Williams Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles law school, basing estimates on its study of census data, says 66,000 gays are on active duty. The institute says it “advances sexual orientation law and public policy.” The military has discharged more than 14,000 service members since 1993.
The Pentagon has said it will not track gays, as it does blacks and Hispanics, arguing that one’s sexuality is private.
The military had enforced a ban on gays at least since World War II. Mr. Clinton attempted to end the ban 18 years ago, but faced stiff opposition from Congress, which sought to make the ban law. He signed a compromise bill that became known as the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, in which homosexuals could serve as long as they did not reveal their sexual orientation.
Nine months ago, President Obama signed repeal legislation that was hurriedly passed by the lame-duck, Democrat-controlled Congress. The ban stayed in place while Robert M. Gates, defense secretary at the time, stuck to a step-by-step plan to prepare straight and gay troops for openness.
The Pentagon launched one of its most far-reaching training programs, producing thick slide shows on how personnel were to abide by military’s new sexual order.
The presentation included scenarios such as what a commander should do if he sees two Marines of the same sex kissing off-duty in a shopping mall. Gay marriage will not be legal in the military, in accordance with the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the briefings said.
A “speaker’s note” accompanying an Army training slide stated:
“This brief is NOT an attempt to change anyone’s opinion or beliefs about the subject of homosexuality. However, we as an Army must always remember our Army values and respect each other’s beliefs in order to accomplish the mission.”
The Pentagon certified in July that open gays would not disrupt combat readiness. With that milestone, the clock started ticking toward Tuesday’s official repeal.
Mr. Sarvis said the battle is not over. He has written Mr. Panetta with a list of benefits he wants for military gays and their partners. He also is threatening lawsuits.
“The work of advancing military equality marches forward after repeal,” he said in a statement.
“At SLDN, we will fight alongside those who may face harassment or discrimination as we oversee implementation; when necessary and timely, litigate in the courts to bring about full LGBT equality in America's military; advocate for legally married service members to receive the same benefits as their straight counterparts; and assist veterans to correct or upgrade their discharge paperwork.”