U.S. military to allow gays, but rules will take time

By Missy Ryan

WASHINGTON (BestGrowthStock) – President Barack Obama on Wednesday signed a landmark law to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the U.S. military for the first time, but it could be many months before a move some top officers warn may endanger troops will finally take effect.

The Pentagon is drafting new rules following the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which Congress passed this month, to cheers from opponents of a long-standing policy that forced gay service members to hide their sexuality.

Since the Pentagon introduced the policy in 1993, ending a blanket ban on gay soldiers, at least 13,000 people have been expelled from the armed forces for violating the rules.

“No longer will tens of thousands of Americans in uniform be asked to live a lie, or look over their shoulder in order to serve,” Obama said before signing the repeal and making good on a key campaign pledges.

Despite divisions at the top of the military, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen supported an end to the policy, pointing to a recent Pentagon study that concluded the risks were low.

The Pentagon must now draft a plan that will decide how troops will be educated about the new policy and make decisions about disciplinary procedures, benefits or the status of those fired for violating “Don’t Ask” in the past, said Colonel David Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman.

The plan may take a cue from the Pentagon’s recent working group report, which recommended against separate bathroom and shower facilities for gay soldiers and said some benefits, like free legal assistance, could be made available to same-sex couples in an open manner that was impossible in the past.

Sixty days after Gates, Obama and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sign off on that plan, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will officially be lifted.

While Pentagon officials decline to say how long it will take to draft the new rules, critics say the Pentagon may drag out the process in a nod to internal skepticism.

“The defense secretary and service chiefs have so far acted as if repeal is a complicated problem. They are probably going to demand up to a year to train troops how to interact with gays,” said Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, a think tank at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

“This is a political obstruction by the service chiefs. Bottom line is that military could repeal ban tomorrow if it wanted to, but that’s not going to happen,” he said.

The recent working group report did make suggestions about communicating the new rules and educating troops, but Pentagon officials say more study is required.

Obama promised the government would not be “dragging our feet to get this done.”

INTERNAL RESISTANCE

Top officials like Marine Corps Commandant James Amos oppose repealing the policy now, saying it is too risky a time to make such a change when the military is already stretched by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

About 30 percent of troops surveyed in the recent study expressed negative views or concerns about the repeal. There is also resistance from the Army and Air Force, and from military chaplains, some of whom believe homosexuality is a sin.

The Senate vote approving repeal of “Don’t Ask” was a victory for Obama, who had been hoping to obtain the change through Congress rather than the courts.

This fall, a California judge ruled the ban was unconstitutional and ordered the military to stop enforcing it immediately. The federal government appealed the decision and the policy was reinstated.

Military officials say it is not yet certain whether soldiers forced out of the armed forces for violating “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will be allowed to rejoin the military. Obama, however, urged such soldiers to reenlist.

(Editing by Jackie Frank)

U.S. military to allow gays, but rules will take time