President Barack Obama and the Pentagon’s top two leaders today signed the required certification attesting that the Defense Department is prepared for repeal of the military’s ban on gays serving openly.
According to a law passed in December, the ban should be lifted “once and for all” 60 days after the certification, Obama said. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also signed the certification, which was sent today to lawmakers in Congress.
“As of Sept. 20th, service members will no longer be forced to hide who they are in order to serve our country,” Obama said in a White House statement. “Today, we have taken the final major step toward ending the discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law that undermines our military readiness and violates American principles of fairness and equality.”
Obama campaigned on a pledge to repeal the 17-year-old prohibition, which dates to the administration of President Bill Clinton. More than 14,000 service members have been discharged for being gay since 1993, according to Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which has worked for repeal.
Discharged May Re-Apply
Discharges under the law will end starting Sept. 20 and personnel who were discharged under the ban will be allowed to re-apply to enter military service, said Marine Corps Major General Steven Hummer, chief of staff for the team charged with implementing the repeal.
The Defense Department has revised policies in preparation and conducted training sessions of 45 minutes to 90 minutes for 1.98 million of 2.2 million active-duty personnel worldwide since the law’s passage in December that laid the groundwork for the repeal.
That was enough for the services to certify that they were ready for repeal, Hummer said. Remaining training and policy revisions will be conducted in the next two months, he told reporters at the Pentagon.
Chiefs of the individual military services supported certification unanimously, said Doug Wilson, a Pentagon spokesman.
Panetta, who took office July 1, said the planning process “was designed to ensure the smoothest possible transition for the U.S. military to accommodate and implement this important and necessary change.”
Mullen helped sway Congress last year to repeal the ban by saying at a Senate hearing, “I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy that forces young men and women to lie about who they are.”
Today, he cited the training and policy review and a study that preceded those steps in saying the armed forces are ready for the change.
“I am comfortable that we have used the findings of the Comprehensive Review Working Group to mitigate areas of concern and that we have developed the policy and regulations necessary for implementation,” Mullen said.
Still, Republicans in Congress, including House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, a California Republican, criticized the move as premature. He called on the administration to release to Congress each of the assessments conducted by the services on the effect of repeal.
“I am disappointed the President hasn’t properly addressed the concerns expressed by military service chiefs,” McKeon said in a statement. “Their worry that the combat readiness of our force could be placed at risk, particularly those serving on the front lines in Afghanistan and Iraq, must be taken seriously.”
McKeon’s request for the assessments is being considered, said Jeh Johnson, the Pentagon’s general counsel.
Repeal of the ban 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.
Obama earlier this month appointed an openly gay Army veteran, Brenda S. “Sue” Fulton, to the Board of Visitors at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.
The next step should be an executive order from the President barring discrimination and harassment in the military based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the legal defense group said.
“Signing legislation that allows for repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was necessary, but it is not sufficient for ensuring equality in the military,” said Aubrey Sarvis, the group’s executive director. “It’s critical that gay and lesbian service members have the same avenues for recourse as their straight counterparts.”
Hummer said an executive order probably wouldn’t be necessary.
“All service members, irrespective of their sexual orientation, are entitled to an environment that is free of any bars that would prohibit their full growth to as high a responsibility as they can achieve,” he said.