Pentagon prepares to relax enforcement of 'don't ask, don't tell'

By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 25, 2010; A04

The Pentagon is scheduled to announce Thursday that it will relax enforcement of the "don't ask, don't tell" rules that prevent gay men and lesbians from serving openly in the military, a decision that officials described as a temporary measure until Congress can take permanent action.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is expected to announce that the military will no longer investigate the sexual orientation of service members based on anonymous complaints, will restrict testimony from third parties and will require high-ranking officers to review all cases, sources familiar with the changes said.

Gates had asked Pentagon lawyers to review whether the Defense Department has the legal discretion to enforce the "don't ask, don't tell" law more loosely after President Obama urged its repeal in his Jan. 27 State of the Union address.

The law was enacted in 1993 after military leaders resisted attempts by President Bill Clinton to integrate gay men and lesbians into the armed forces. Under the compromise legislation, gays are allowed to serve as long as they hide their sexual orientation.

Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate committee on Feb. 2 that they agree with Obama and would take steps to prepare the military for the eventual repeal of "don't ask, don't tell."

Gates has assigned Gen. Carter F. Ham, the commander of the U.S. Army Europe, and Jeh C. Johnson, the Pentagon's chief legal counsel, to issue recommendations by Dec. 1 on how to integrate the armed forces. Among the issues they will have to sort out are same-sex marriage, barracks cohabitation and attendance at military social functions.

The Pentagon is moving ahead on the assumption that Congress will overturn the ban on gays serving openly, but whether that will happen remains uncertain. Republican opposition to a change is strong, and some influential Democrats -- including Rep. Ike Skelton (Mo.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee -- agree.

The issue is a political hot potato at the Pentagon. Some generals and admirals have argued that it would be unwise to make major social changes in the armed forces at a time when the United States is fighting two wars. But few have been willing to openly contradict Mullen, the nation's highest-ranking military officer, who told the Senate in February that repealing the law would be "the right thing to do."

At a news briefing Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell confirmed that Gates will announce changes this week that would "provide for a more humane enforcement and application of the law," but he did not provide details.

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