WASHINGTON — A formal end to the ban on gays serving openly in the US military will likely come by late July or early August, outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates told AFP on Thursday.
Gates, revising his earlier forecasts, said in an interview that final approval to end the prohibition would be left for his successor at the Pentagon, Leon Panetta, who is due to take over from Gates on July 1.
Congress voted to repeal the ban in December and Gates had said previously that he might be able to sign off on the change before he steps down at the end of the month.
The new law requires the Pentagon to make any necessary changes and then the prohibition would end 60 days after the defense secretary, the top military officer Admiral Mike Mullen and President Barack Obama certify that the military is ready to move ahead.
“I will not certify,” said Gates, but added he had launched preparations to pave the way for the move.
“What I have done is earlier this week met with the service chiefs and the service secretaries and we began what I would call the pre-certification phase of this,” he said.
With a large percentage of the force having undergone training to adjust to the new rule, the chiefs of the armed services will now confer with their officers to check if the military is ready for the change, he said.
The chiefs, Gates said, will be asking “are we ready to proceed with this, are you confident that good order and cohesion and discipline will be maintained, and content that people have been trained adequately and so on.”
Based on that exercise, the chiefs will then deliver their conclusions to the defense secretary, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Obama, he said.
Gates said he sought to start preparations in his final weeks in office to ensure the issue could be taken up by his successor next month without any delays.
“I wanted to get this started because when Mr Panetta comes in he’s obviously going to have a lot of things on his plate.
“And I was concerned that if I didn’t get this started it might be delayed several weeks until he was able to get to it and inform himself about it.”
He added: “I think our hope would be that we would be in a position, and I underscore the word hope, to provide the certification sometime in the last half of July, early August.”
Lawmakers voted to end the prohibition after the Pentagon issued a study that found a solid majority of troops were not bothered by the prospect of lifting the ban and that the military could implement the change without a major disruption or upheaval.