Fresh off a promise from President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address to repeal a law barring gays from serving openly in the military, the Pentagon is expected to announce that they will stop enforcing the most controversial elements of the law.
Buried in a New York Times article Monday is news that Defense Secretary Robert Gates is expected to announce he will suspend the discharges of gay servicemembers whose sexual orientation is revealed by third parties.
While the law’s repeal is being debated, “Gay rights leaders say they expect Mr. Gates to announce in the interim that the Defense Department will not take action to discharge service members whose sexual orientation is revealed by third parties or jilted partners, one of the most onerous aspects of the law,” the paper’s Elisabeth Bumiller wrote. “Pentagon officials had no comment.”
“This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are,” the president said in his State of the Union address last Wednesday night.
That one sentence was the sum total of Obama’s declarations on the issue, but “you only need one sentence for the military leaders in this country to hear their commander-in-chief,” House Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) said after the speech.
Obama finally decided he had to move on the issue because he was concerned that if not, he’d be forced to defend the gay ban in court, Bumiller writes.
“But it was in Oval Office strategy sessions to review court cases challenging the ban — ones that could reach the Supreme Court — that Mr. Obama faced the fact that if he did not change the policy, his administration would be forced to defend publicly the constitutionality of a law he had long opposed,” she writes.
“As a participant recounted one of the sessions, Mr. Obama told Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, that the law was ‘just wrong,’” she added. “Mr. Obama told them, the participant said, that he had delayed acting on repeal because the military was stretched in two wars and he did not want another polarizing debate in 2009 to distract from his health care fight.”
Nevertheless, he indicated that he intended to work to repeal the ban in 2010.
But the policy’s repeal — which requires an act of Congress because it is part of the military’s Uniform Code of Military Justice — may be years away. The Pentagon says that they must undertake a study to investigate the consequences of a repeal, which could take years to complete.
“The delay seems to be the result of general reluctance among military leaders to end the policy, and trepidation on the part of lawmakers to broach the issue ahead of what is sure to be a tough midterm election year,” The Hill’s Tony Romm wrote Saturday.
Critics argue that allowing gays to serve openly in the military would undermine unit cohesion, a claim that was itself undermined by a 1993 study.