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Panetta, Mullen Approve Lifting of U.S. Military’s Ban on Gays

Top Pentagon officials plan to announce today their decision to certify lifting the ban on gays serving openly in the armed forces, two defense officials said.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are ready to certify that the armed forces are prepared for the change and that it won’t harm military readiness, said the officials, who weren’t authorized to discuss the decision publicly before the announcement.

President Barack Obama signed legislation into law in December to repeal the prohibition, called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” 60 days after the Defense Department drafts a plan for putting the new regulations in place and Obama and Pentagon officials certify that the shift wouldn’t harm recruitment, retention or readiness.

Obama is scheduled to meet with Panetta and Mullen this afternoon.

Repeal of the 17-year-old ban fulfills a campaign pledge by Obama, who said the prohibition was a violation of civil rights. The shift is among a number of changes the administration has made, including at the State Department, to ease rules and regulations on government employees that discriminate based on sexual orientation.

Months of Training

The military services have conducted months of training and officials have said the certification was imminent. General James Amos, the Marine Corps commandant, had recommended against repeal during wartime in congressional testimony in December, while then-Army Chief of Staff General George Casey and Air Force General Norton Schwartz said the change would pose a “moderate” risk to military effectiveness.

Organizations that advocated for repeal of the ban argued that the armed services are deprived of troops with critical military skills and potential recruits.

“It’s a rare moment when we can both strike a victory for national security and also for civil rights and the meaning of American citizenship, and certification is one of those historic moments,” said Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, a research institute at the University of California at Santa Barbara that studies sexual minorities in the military.

Repeal will be welcomed by gay and lesbian soldiers who have “had to serve their country in silence for far too long,” said Aubrey Sarvis, an Army veteran and director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

McCain’s Criticism

Republicans including Arizona Senator John McCain, who leads his party on the Armed Services Committee, criticized the change.

“Repeal is a fait accompli,” Belkin said in a telephone interview. “The public supports it, the military supports it and the president supports it, and frankly there’s nothing the Republicans can do about it.”

Rhode Island Democrat Jack Reed, also a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a former Army Ranger, said the ban, which dates to President Bill Clinton’s administration, is “outdated.”

“I am pleased our civilian and uniformed military leadership is finally eliminating this barrier to service,” Reed said in a statement. “Our military is stronger because of the diversity of our troops.”

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