When Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint of Chiefs of Staff, testify before Congress today, they are expected to announce a series of first steps in the direction of preparing the military for the integration of gays and lesbians. According to an administration official, the most visible of those steps will be to revise the rule that allows third parties -- other soldiers or outside accusers -- to "out" soldiers and precipitate investigations that lead to their dismissal. Basically: if someone else outs you, you won't be dismissed. It's not clear what percentage of Don't Ask, Don't Tell dismissals would be effected by this revision.

Sources said that Gates will tell Congress that he plans to appoint a commission, including civilians, to plan for an array of changes to military procedures and codes. Will sexual harassment laws have to be revised? How will sexual tolerance be taught in military academies? What will disciplinary procedures entail for soldiers who harass gay soldiers? What does it mean to declare oneself "gay?" What about partnership benefits for spouses?

The commission will report back within a year. Why so long? For one thing, Gates and Mullen will argue that full integration of gays and lesbians must be pursued carefully, in order to protect the rights of gay soldiers and to make sure that the policy, when finally implemented, is well accepted and seen as legitimate. Civil rights groups are likely to protest the delay, but the White House is on board with the timetable, and it's not clear whether Congress can pass a full repeal.

According to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, 428 soldiers were dismissed from the military because of their sexual orientation in 2009.