The Obama administration announced Friday that the military had made all necessary preparations to allow gays to serve openly in the armed forces, setting the stage for the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in 60 days.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, presented President Obama with a formal certification Friday afternoon at the White House that the military’s ability to fight and recruit would not be harmed by the overt presence of gays in the ranks.
The certification marked the final hurdle in a nearly two-decade-long campaign by gay-rights groups and civil-rights advocates to integrate the armed forces. Under a law passed by Congress and signed by Obama in December, the 18-year-old “don’t-ask, don’t-tell” policy will now automatically vanish in 60 days.
The White House played down Friday’s event. Obama, Panetta and Mullen did not comment publicly, although White House officials scheduled a conference call with gay-rights activists for later in the day to explain the decision.
The “don’t-ask, don’t-tell” policy, which allowed gays to serve as long as they kept their sexual orientation a secret, was enacted in 1993 as a compromise measure by Congress after then-President Bill Clinton failed to persuade lawmakers to lift a longstanding ban on gays in the military.
Starting in September, gay and lesbian service personnel for the first time will be able to reveal their sexual identity without fear of dismissal. But several unresolved issues remain for the military to iron out, including potential spousal benefits for gay couples and housing arrangements.
The Defense Department has been preparing for the change by providing training and counseling sessions across the armed services. Since the new law was adopted in December, military officials have reported little resistance in the ranks to the pending repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” saying that social acceptance of gay rights has become more entrenched since the policy was adopted.