- The Washington Times - Monday, October 12, 2009

REUTERS NEWS AGENCY

A leading Senate Democrat said Sunday that he expects President Obama to keep a renewed vow to allow open homosexuality in the U.S. military, but that he should do so with the support of the Pentagon.

Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat and Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, said the British and other Western armies have ended such rules and that it would be “great progress” for the United States to do it as well.

But Mr. Levin added: “It has to be done in the right way, which is to get a buy-in from the military [that] I think is now possible.”

The senator made the comments on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” a day after Mr. Obama renewed a 2008 campaign vow to let gays serve openly in the military and on the same day as thousands of chanting gay-rights demonstrators converged on the Capitol and White House.

The current policy, “don’t ask, don’t tell,” was signed into law in 1993 by President Clinton as a compromise after the military objected to the Democrat’s calls to permit the open practice of homosexuality. The policy stopped the government from asking recruits or anyone in the military if they were gay, provided they did not disclose their sexual orientation.

Critics charge that having gays openly serve in the military would undermine morale and discipline. But others reject such complaints and call the current policy unfair and unwise.

Mr. Obama offered no timetable for ending the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in his address Saturday to the Human Rights Campaign, but the president said he had reached out to members of Congress and the Pentagon.

Legislation is pending in Congress to end the policy, and Mr. Levin’s committee would likely help shape any final measure.

“I think [Mr. Obama] will and he can” end the policy, Mr. Levin said.

Retired Gen. Richard B. Myers, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appeared with Mr. Levin on “Meet the Press,” but declined to say whether he thought the U.S. should end the policy. But Mr. Myers did agree with the senator that the military should be part of any such decision.

Another influential retired general, Barry McCaffrey, also appearing on “Meet the Press,” said: “There isn’t any question it is time to change the policy.”

Mr. McCaffrey, who fought in the Vietnam War and commanded troops in the Persian Gulf War, said the key is for Congress to take the needed action. If Congress does so, he said, “I’m confident that the military will move ahead on it.”

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