Gates says abrupt end to 'don't ask' would have 'enormous consequences'

President Obama signed the landmark repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" Wednesday morning, ending a 17-year ban on gays serving openly in the military.
By Craig Whitlock and Scott Wilson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, October 13, 2010; 5:03 PM

BRUSSELS - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Wednesday that an abrupt end to the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy would have "enormous consequences" for troops.

Gates declined to answer directly when asked whether the administration should appeal a federal court injunction ordering the military to immediately end the policy. But he said he wants to proceed with his preferred approach: to allow the Defense Department to complete, by Dec. 1, a review of how to integrate openly gay men and lesbians in the armed forces, followed by an act of Congress that would overturn the "don't ask, don't tell" law.

"I feel very strongly that this is an action that needs to be taken by the Congress, and that it is an action that requires careful preparation and a lot of training," Gates told reporters aboard a military aircraft as he flew to Brussels for a NATO meeting.

Gates said the Pentagon needs until Dec. 1 to resolve questions such as whether heterosexual troops would be required to share housing with gays and whether the military would be required to provide benefits for same-sex partners of service members.

"This is a very complex business. It has enormous consequences for our troops," Gates said. "As I have said from the very beginning, there should be legislation, and that legislation should be informed by the review we have underway."

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, who said he talked to Obama on Wednesday morning about the issue, steered to the Justice Department questions concerning whether the administration will appeal the ruling. He emphasized that the administration is seeking an "orderly way for it to end."

He said the "best way to end" the policy is "for the Senate to follow the lead of the House of Representatives so . . . that end can be implemented in a fashion that's consistent with our obligations in fighting two wars." He was referring to a Senate vote on the defense authorization bill - blocked last month - that contains a clause that would repeal the policy.

"I think the bottom line is that recent court rulings have demonstrated to Congress that it's time to act and end this policy," he said. "They've demonstrated that time is running out on the policy of 'don't ask, don't tell,' and that the bottom line is this is a policy that is going to end. It's not whether it will end but the process by which it will end."

Asked whether Obama thinks the policy is unconstitutional, Gibbs said only that "the president believes the policy should change, that it's unjust, that it discriminates and that it harms our national security."

"I think that the courts have demonstrated that the time is ticking on the policy of 'don't ask, don't tell,' " Gibbs said. "Obviously, it would be better to have all the branches of government aligned in how we do this. That would add some order to it that would make this easier to do." Wilson reported from Washington.

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