First, this was not expected. Stung so many times by the promise of action of the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, gay rights advocates were worried that the Defense Department's proceduralism would be an excuse to delay any action at all, even though the Secretary of Defense has fairly broad discretion over how to enforce the ban on gays in the military. The Senate bill is languishing.
So the news, broken Tuesday, that Robert Gates would announce a relaxation of the rules took many by surprise. It shouldn't have -- Gates, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, really believe that DADT's time has run its course, and they genuinely feel for the soldiers who have been dismissed as they honorably served their country. Internally, the move sends a message to the general officer corps, within which there are notable doubters of the move to repeal it: don't bother trying to stop this thing once it starts.
The changes themselves are essentially what Gates outlined when he testified at a Congressional hearing in February: anonymous complaints won't trigger investigations, investigations won't be witch hunts and will be reviewed by senior officers, and hearsay testimony won't be allowed. Slim pickings: if a soldier declares he is gay, then he can still get kicked out. But the moves by Gates suggest that there will no longer be an investigatory zeal, a prosecutorial mode, or a policy designed to search for serving gays. A small step, but it will help change the culture, which is one reason why Gates is proceeding.
Thumbnail photo credit: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Flickr