BAGHDAD – Gay U.S. troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan said Thursday that a federal appeals court order to stop enforcement of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy puts them one step closer to revealing their sexual orientation without fear of retribution or dismissal.
A three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ordered the Pentagon on Wednesday to cease investigations and discharges of service members in violation of the ban on gays serving openly in the military. The ruling noted that the Obama administration has said it thinks another federal law — the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriages — is unconstitutional.
The Defense Department will comply with the court order and took steps late Wednesday to begin informing the forces of the change, according to Marine Col. Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman.
But plans to end the ban on gays in uniform, as outlined in a law passed in December, will continue as scheduled, senior military officials said Thursday.
The law requires every man and woman serving in military uniform to complete training courses about the end of the policy before its repeal. Military officials said President Obama will certify “in the coming weeks” that the military has completed the training courses and is ready to end the ban.
The “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which began in late 1993, will officially end 60 days after Obama’s written certification.
Some gay troops serving on the front lines said Thursday that military culture — not a court order — would dictate whether they eventually reveal their sexual orientation.
“I’m ecstatic,” said one soldier stationed in Baghdad, adding that he planned to meet Thursday night at a military coffee shop with other gay soldiers to celebrate.
“We won’t be loud or obnoxious, but we will show solidarity and resolve,” the soldier said by e-mail, speaking on the condition of anonymity while the ban remains in effect.
Military officials in Iraq said Thursday that the approximately 47,000 troops deployed here had completed training courses on schedule. But when asked, one official said there was no way of knowing how many courses had been conducted in Iraq, suggesting only that there had been many.
At Bagram air base in Afghanistan, an Air Force staff sergeant who also requested anonymity said the court decision would probably add to the confusion about the end of the policy.
“A lot of people thought it all ended back in December and thought we were done,” the staff sergeant said in an interview. “People are frustrated. They’re waiting and thinking, ‘It’ll be any week now,’ and they’d just like it to get done.”
An Army officer based in Kabul said that he and his gay comrades were unlikely to publicly disclose their sexual orientation immediately — whenever the ban ends.
“I’d like to, but that’s difficult because of the culture around me,” he said in an interview. Complicating the decision, he said, he has heard fellow soldiers and commanding officers use gay slurs and make gay jokes.
“I don’t know who will be accepting,” he said. Even if the ban ends quickly, “military culture won’t change overnight.”
Sounding more optimistic, the Air Force staff sergeant at Bagram quoted his commander, who recently said, “Don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t care, doesn’t matter. We have a war to fight that is much more important.”
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