June 13, 2011 at 6:13 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
Gates open to certifying ‘Don’t Ask’ repeal this month

Defense Secretary Robert Gates (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Defense Secretary Robert Gates reportedly said Monday he’s open to certifying repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” before his retirement at the end of the month.

According to the Associated Press, Gates said during an interview he sees no roadblocks to ending the military’s gay ban and would endorse open service on his watch if the military service chiefs recommend moving ahead.

“I think people are pretty satisfied with the way this process is going forward,” Gates was quoted as saying. “I think people have been mildly and pleasantly surprised at the lack of pushback in the training.”

However, Gates reportedly said the notion that no ugly incidents will take place after the ban is lifted is “unrealistic.” The defense secretary was quoted as saying decades after women entered military service, problems with sexual assaults still persist.

Under the repeal law signed in December, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” won’t be off the books until 60 days pass after the president, the defense secretary and the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify that the U.S. military is ready. If Gates approves the certification before he leaves office, the repeal could be fully implemented in September.

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said he’s “pleased” to hear Gates’ clearly state he’s prepared to certify “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal before retirement.

“After nearly six months of preparation and training, we join the secretary in expressing confidence that the military is, indeed, ready for open service,” Sarvis said. “Hopefully, with the bulk of the training completed in all of the services, the service chiefs are rapidly approaching the point where they can officially recommend to the [Joint Chiefs of Staff] Chairman [Adm.] Michael Mullen, Secretary Gates, and to the president that the time has come to make the long anticipated certification.”

According to the Associated Press, almost half of the armed forces have received the training for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal. Gates has said he wants the U.S. military to receive training in handling open service before he certifies repeal.

Eileen Lainez, a Pentagon spokesperson, said she had no further information on any plans to issue certification beyond what Gates said in the interview. Defense Department officials have previously testified before Congress that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal certification could happen by mid-summer.

Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, also said the certification for repeal is ready to happen before the end of the month — citing the advancement in “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal training throughout the military.

“The Pentagon has been very thorough and deliberate in its training and preparation for the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ and the time to move forward on repeal has arrived,” Nicholson said. “Senior defense leaders have said all along that the force does not need to be 100 percent trained before certification can occur. Given that there have been absolutely no major problems with this process, there is no reason that the U.S. military would not be ready for certification and ultimate repeal immediately prior to Secretary Gates’ departure.”

In a statement provided to the Washington Blade, Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), a proponent of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, also called for certification to happen as soon as possible — provided the change doesn’t impair the U.S. military.

“Allowing gay and lesbian service members to serve openly is important to our national security and to the well-being of those troops who are currently forced to hide their sexual orientation,” Udall said. “I share the desire to see this outdated law cast into the dustbin of history. If the provisions required by law are met in order to guarantee that the mission and service members do not suffer, and that there are no legal challenges to the repeal, then it can’t happen soon enough.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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