Top Pentagon leaders will say Friday that the military is ready to permit gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military, allowing President Obama to formally end the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, according to a U.S. official and others familiar with the plans.
In accordance with a law passed in December that set in motion the process of ending the ban, Obama first must receive notice from Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and top uniformed brass that the military is prepared to end the policy before the government stops enforcing it. The policy will end 60 days after Obama formally certifies the repeal in writing to Congress.
If Obama signs the certification in the coming days, the ban would end in late September.
Obama met Wednesday at the White House with Panetta, who will be formally sworn in to his new job by Vice President Biden on Friday at the Pentagon. The White House isn't planning to formally mark the end of “don't ask, don’t tell” with any type of public event until the end of the 60-day period, sources said.
Once the almost 18-year ban ends, gays and lesbians serving in military uniform will be able to publicly reveal their sexual identity without fear of dismissal or official rebuke, openly gay men and women will be able to enlist in the military, and gay couples may be allowed to wed at military chapels or live together on military bases in states that recognize same-sex marriages.
But several unresolved issues remain regarding military spousal benefits for gay couples, including potential housing options and survivor benefits. Complicating any resolution is that the Defense of Marriage Act, which bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages, will keep same-sex military couples from enjoying full spousal benefits.
Obama announced support this week for legislation to repeal DOMA, which gay activists has said would be necessary to fully end any and all official discrimination against gays in the military.
Gay activists and top military officials also have cautioned that it may take years for gays to feel completely comfortable revealing their sexual orientation to colleagues.
On the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, gay service members contacted in recent weeks said they don’t anticipate publicly disclosing their sexual orientation right away. Soldiers stationed in Afghanistan reported that despite the completion of mandatory training programs in recent months, colleagues and commanding officers have been using gay slurs or making gay jokes.
In Iraq, training courses ended weeks ago, and troops said they don’t anticipate that the policy change would adversely affect operations.
“I don’t think there’s any issue with it whatsoever,” Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, the chief spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq, said in a recent interview. “And if there are individual issues, then people will have to either conform or make a decision to leave when they can.”
As part of a bipartisan agreement that ended the policy, the military required every active-duty and reserve service member to attend training courses outlining how a repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” would change military personnel policy and benefits. Though most service members have completed their training, military officials have said courses for the Army — the largest military service — wouldn’t be completed until early August.
The decision to certify the ban follows months of criticism by gay activists that Obama should have acted sooner to end the policy. Since December, federal courts have ordered the government to stop enforcing the policy, then allowed it to continue as the Justice Department appealed the decision.
House Republicans, most of whom voted against ending the ban on grounds that it would disrupt battlefield operations, successfully amended the House version of the annual defense authorization bill with language restricting gay weddings on military bases and other similar provisions. It is unclear whether such provisions would be included in the final version of the bill, which isn’t likely to be passed by the House and Senate until after late September.
O’Keefe reported from Baghdad.
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