Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told troops worldwide May 28 that any repeal of the so-called “don’t ask don’t tell” law will be delayed until the ongoing Defense Department high-level review is completed, and only after he, the president and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff all can certify that the department is ready to make the change without hurting unit cohesion, military readiness, military effectiveness, and recruiting and retention.
Gates recorded a special message that was broadcast on the American Forces Radio and Television Service and the Pentagon Channel to speak directly to service members and their families about the moves toward repeal of the law that bars gay men and lesbians from serving openly in the military.
“There’s been a lot of political posturing and maneuvering on this issue this week, and the secretary wanted to communicate directly to the troops about what this all means to them,” Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said.
“He wanted to make it clear that the department’s review of how to smartly implement a change in the law is more important than ever, and their participation in it is absolutely critical to its success.”
The House of Representatives passed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Bill May 27 that would allow gay men and lesbians to serve openly. The Senate Armed Services Committee also passed a similar amendment.
If it passes in the upper house or is not acted upon, differences will have to be reconciled in a conference committee looking at the defense authorization bill for final passage.
President Barack Obama said he is pleased with the congressional actions. He has long favored repealing the law, which has been in effect since 1994.
“Key to successful repeal will be the ongoing Defense Department review, and as such, I am grateful that the amendments … will ensure that the Department of Defense can complete that comprehensive review that will allow our military and their families the opportunity to inform and shape the implementation process,” he said in a written statement released by the White House.
Obama said being the commander in chief is his greatest honor. “This legislation will help make our armed forces even stronger and more inclusive by allowing gay and lesbian soldiers to serve honestly and with integrity,” he said.
Any change in the law will take time, Gates said in his recorded message. “The legislative process is long and complex,” he said. “While it appears likely that Congress will eventually change the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ law, we do not expect the legislation that would do this to be presented to the president for months – perhaps not until the end of the year.”
The amendment is the result of a compromise worked out between the administration and Congress.
It allows the military to revoke the “don’t ask, don’t tell” provisions 60 days after a military study group chaired by Jeh C. Johnson, the Defense Department’s general counsel, and Army Gen. Carter F. Ham, commander of U.S. Army Europe, presents its report in December.
The legislation is a deferred repeal, Gates stressed. “It would repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ but only after – I repeat, after – the ongoing Department of Defense high-level review is completed, and only after the president, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and I all can certify that we are ready to make this change without hurting unit cohesion, military readiness, military effectiveness, and recruiting and retention,” Gates said.
As the legislative process continues, nothing will change in current policies and practices, the secretary said. “Current law, policies and regulations remain in place, and we are obligated to abide by them as before,” he said.
The vote in the House and at the Senate committee makes the results of the Defense Department study even more important, Gates said. The panel will conduct a thorough and fact-based assessment of the impact of the potential law change and will develop “an implementation plan that minimizes any possible disruption to the department’s mission and on-going operations,” he added.
Gates urged service members to participate in the review. “We need to hear from you, and your families, so that we can make these judgments in the most informed and effective manner,” the secretary said. “So please let us know how to do this right.”
He asked all service members to stay informed on this issue, but to not let it distract them from the “critical mission to defend our country and our duty to uphold the values represented by the uniform you wear,” he said.
The message will play on AFRTS broadcast outlets overseas and on the Pentagon Channel in the United States.