‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Policy to Change by 2011

Human Rights 02.3,10

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, announced yesterday the creation of a working group within the Department of Defense that will evaluate how to implement a full repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the law that requires LGBT servicemen and women to keep their sexual orientation a secret or face discharge.

The announcement of the group comes only days after President Obama committed to repealing the law during his State of the Union address.

“I fully support the President’s decision.  The question before us is not whether the military prepares to make this change, but how we best prepare for it,” said Gates said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.  “However, we also can only take this process so far as the ultimate decision rests with you, the Congress”

The high level working group will “methodically” address the military, civil, and domestic implications of repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’, and has until the end of the calendar year to report on its findings.  Some of the issues to be addressed by the group include whether LGBT servicemen or women will face restrictions on exhibiting their sexual orientation on the job, whether the Pentagon will be obligated to provide benefits for their domestic partners, and whether straight military personnel would be forced to share quarters with LGBT soldiers.

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said that the announcement “blunts the day-to-day damage” of the policy, but said that Congress still must repeal the law.

“The military has already had 16 years to think about this and other countries have been able to implement equality in the armed services. Let’s get moving. The livelihoods and safety of thousands of service members depend on it,” said Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Senator Carl Levin, D. Mich., chair of the committee, suggested to Gates and Mullen that the military cease discharges under the law while the working group is conducting its review.

Read Defense Secretary Gates full testimony. (PDF)