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Aubrey Sarvis Headshot

Gates, Mullen Signal Chain of Command: Stop Wasting Time Discharging Gays

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Today Defense Secretary Robert Gates, his department's General Counsel Jeh C. Johnson, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mulllen took another big step in reducing discharges under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and sending an important signal to Congress as that body takes up repeal of DADT this year. You can watch their press conference on C-SPAN and read a transcript on the Pentagon's web site.

Repeal is inevitable. The opposition may make a lot of noise but in fact it is collapsing on every front. The President, Secretary Gates, Admiral Mullen, and Senator Carl Levin, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, all want this archaic law to go. The question now is how much longer honorable patriots willing to fight and die for their country will be shackled by an unjust statute.

As much as we welcome these helpful changes coming from Secretary Gates and his DOD General Counsel, interim steps are not a substitute for repeal, for full repeal. An unjust law is still an unjust law. As long as it remains on the books, service members will continue to be discharged every day until Congress musters the courage to repeal it. That's the harsh reality.

President Reagan stood at the Berlin Wall and cried out, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this Wall!" We call to Congress, "Honorable men and women of the Senate and House, bury this law once and for all and forever."

But today we're marking another step in the long fight towards lifting the ban. Under the new guidelines announced by Secretary Gates, anonymous tips, hearsay and statements made in confidence to doctors and other medical professionals and clergy--previously among the reasons gay and lesbian service members were discharged--can no longer be used to spark a DADT investigation. 

These regulatory changes, while not enough, are definitely a step forward in making the 1993 ban less draconian. What Secretary Gates said today underscores what he said on February 2: the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is inevitable. It's a matter of how to repeal the law, not whether to repeal it.

We're pleased that the Defense Department adopted three of five of SLDN's recommendations presented to Secretary Gates back in July 2009. Under the Pentagon's new criteria, complaints of DADT violations must be made under oath. Only a general or admiral may initiate a fact-finding inquiry. The reporting person must also be credible. A gay service member can at last (and at least) divulge his or her sexual orientation to a physician or therapist without fear of getting fired. Service members can also report domestic abuse without putting themselves at risk under DADT. These new rules go into effect today. It's good to know that the undue burden gay and lesbian troops carry around with them every day has been lessened--but this is not good enough.

Let us not forget that gay and lesbian troops are fired for reasons other than third-party outings. The Pentagon will continue to process hundreds of DADT discharges this year and thousands of service members will leave the services on their own because of DADT. This is why Congress must repeal the law this year and bring these discharges to zero.

Unfortunately, the Pentagon continues to ignore the 9th Circuit Court's decision in Witt v. Department of the Air Force. Under the Witt standard, before discharging a gay or lesbian service member, the military must show that he or she is a detriment to morale, good order and discipline, or unit cohesion. Not only has DOD declined to apply Witt uniformly throughout the military, as SLDN urged last year, but it has taken no steps to comply with that decision where it clearly does apply--to all the services in the Ninth Circuit. This means that service members will continue to be discharged without any evidence that they are a detriment to the readiness of the armed forces.

We urge President Obama and the Senate Armed Services Committee to include repeal language in the defense authorization budget in May while the Pentagon Working Group continues to examine how to implement open service for all qualified men and women. 

Service members must keep in mind these announced changes do not allow them to serve openly under current law without risking discharge.

But all in all this was a good day for LGBT members of the armed services, for gay men and women everywhere, and for the advancement of justice in the United States of America. You don't have to be gay or straight to be proud of that. That's for everybody.

Yes, it's inevitable this law is going to be repealed and let's fight to make sure it's repealed this year. We've come a long way but the battle isn't over yet.