Senior Defense Department officials are already working toward implementing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, according to the Pentagon.
“This is high on [Defense Secretary Robert Gates'] agenda, and his senior staff is focused on it this week,” said Eileen Lainez, a Pentagon spokesperson, via e-mail to the Blade.
On Dec. 22, President Obama signed legislation allowing for repeal of the 17-year-old law banning open gays from serving in the U.S. military.
But repeal won’t take effect until the president, the defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff issue certification that the armed forces are ready for an end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” There is no set time for when this certification would take place, and the Obama administration hasn’t issued a timetable for when it might happen.
Additionally, after certification is issued, a 60-day waiting period for congressional review must take place before gays can serve openly in the U.S. military without fear of discharge.
Lainez said Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Clifford Stanley is working with the military service branches, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the combatant commands throughout the process for repeal.
“Planning for successful repeal includes reviewing and revising policies and directives, establishing education and training materials, developing integrated communication plans and obtaining feedback throughout the process,” Lainez said.
Capt. John Kirby, spokesperson for Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, said the Pentagon is working through issues of implementation and certification. He said no final decisions have been made and he couldn’t offer further comment about Mullen’s plan for issuing certification.
A White House spokesperson deferred comment to the Defense Department on questions for when the president would issue certification. In an interview last month with the Advocate, President Obama predicted that certification for repeal would happen in “a matter of months.”
Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, said implementation of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal shouldn’t be a long process because the Pentagon already established a policy to allow gays to serve openly in the military when a California federal court in October issued an injunction that temporarily enjoined enforcement of the law.
“Although they haven’t acknowledged this in public, the replacement regulations have already been written, and so the Pentagon could easily repeal the ban today if there was the political will,” Belkin said.
Belkin said lessons learned from foreign countries that have lifted their bans on gays in the military show two things are necessary for repeal: strong leadership and a set of rules that apply to everyone without mentioning sexual orientation.
“The commander-in-chief has said the policy hurts the military and research has also shown that there’s no advantage to the policy and that it’s easy to change,” Belkin said.
Michael Cole-Schwartz, a Human Rights Campaign spokesperson, said his organization foresees a similarly expeditious path for implementing repeal.
“President Obama, in his public statement and in his commitments to us, has said that he does not want this to be a drawn out process,” Cole-Schwartz said. “Our advocacy for the Pentagon and the White House is going to be for them to keep that commitment.”
Belkin said he suspects opposition to repeal from some military service chiefs — Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz — could slow the process for certification. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead has said he supports repeal.
“Casey in particular is leaving soon and doesn’t want to be known as the Army chief of staff who let gays in on his watch,” Belkin said. “The foot-dragging is not about some sincere or legitimate sense that the troops need to be trained on how to deal with gays; it’s because they don’t want to be around when the policy happens.”
One lingering question about certification is whether Gates would remain in his role as defense secretary when certification takes place. The defense secretary has said he intends to retire sometime this year, although the specific date hasn’t yet been announced.
Belkin said he doesn’t think Gates would retire as defense secretary before he certifies repeal as “a matter of personal, professional pride for him to get this done on his watch.”
“It’s hard for me to believe that he will walk away from the process without finishing it,” Belkin said. “That’s not because I know anything from the inside, but just kind of triangulating the little pieces of insight here and there.”
Gates has said he wouldn’t certify repeal until training for open service has been implemented and he feels the service chiefs are comfortable moving forward.