Pentagon's Surprising Move Against Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Small moves against a big policy

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President Obama campaigned on a pledge to repeal don't ask, don't tell, the restrictive measure that has expelled 13,389 gay military service members since it was implemented in 1994. And in January it looked like, with the support of the military, he was going to do it. After a two-month lull, the Pentagon is finally moving forward. Here's what they're doing (so far), why it's surprising, and what it means for gays in the military.

  • What's Changing The New York Times' Thom Shanker reports that, in this "interim plan" while the Pentagon works on a full repeal, it will be more difficult for the military to expel gay servicemembers. "The new steps would include a requirement that only a general or admiral could initiate action in cases where service members were suspected of violating the prohibition against openly gay service in the armed forces. The guidelines would also raise the standard required for evidence."
  • Why It's Surprising The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder explains why "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."
  • Gates Takes Lead, Ahead of Congress The Washington Independent's Spencer Ackerman notes that, although the repeal authroity lies with Congress, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is making "unilateral" changes. "That [Congressional] study hasn't concluded. Nor has the Senate taken up Joe Lieberman's (I-Conn.) bill to repeal the ban. But Gates has some unilateral tools at his disposal, and this week he intends to use them."
  • It's Not Revolutionary ABC News' Devin Dwyer reality-checks. "The directive will focus largely on the provision that allows third parties to report gay service members for disciplinary action. While only a small number have been discharged because of these circumstances, Gates has said he does not want the practice to continue."
  • Designed To Change Military Culture Even if it will not dramatically change the law itself, notes Ambinder. "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. [...] A small step, but it will help change the culture, which is one reason why Gates is proceeding."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.