'Don't ask, don't tell' promise now In the Works

At a hearing Tuesday, opponents of the military's policy made their views clear.
At a hearing Tuesday, opponents of the military's policy made their views clear.

During his first year as president, Barack Obama and the Pentagon brass did little to advance a repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that has governed the service of gay and lesbian Americans in the military since 1993. So we rated this promise Stalled.

But with new words of support from Obama and a plan from Defense Secretary Robert Gates, we're ready to move the needle on our Obameter.

The policy, which prohibits gays and lesbians from openly serving in the military, has been attacked for years by gay activists and was a prominent target for Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign.

In his State of the Union address on Jan. 27, 2010, Obama said, "This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are."

Six days later, Obama's top Pentagon officials offered the Senate Armed Services Committee details on how Obama's pledge will be carried out.

“The question before us is not whether the military prepares to make this change, but how we best prepare for it,” said Gates. “We have received our orders from the commander in chief and we are moving out accordingly."

Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Michael Mullen, speaking "for myself and myself only," added that he is in favor of “allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly" in the armed forces.

“No matter how I look at the issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens,” said Mullen, the nation's top-ranking uniformed officer.

Gates and Mullen cautioned that the switch would not be immediate. Not only does Congress need to change the current law, but the Pentagon will first carry out a detailed "implementation plan" led by Pentagon legal counsel Jeh Johnson and Gen. Carter Ham, who commands the United States Army in Europe. It's likely to take months for the Pentagon to complete its plan.

In the shorter term, Gates said that the Pentagon would move toward enforcing the current policy "in a fairer manner." Gates established a timeline of 45 days for those changes.

"We believe that we have a degree of latitude within the existing law to change our internal procedures in a manner that is more appropriate and fair to our men and women in uniform,” Gates said.

Gay-rights activists applauded the statements by Gates and Mullen, while also urging that the Pentagon not let the Johnson-Ham report delay implementation.

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, called Gates' and Mullen's comments a "historic step forward," while Servicemembers Legal Defense Network executive director Aubrey Sarvis intepreted their testimony as "a roadmap for full repeal."

It's too early to call this a Promise Kept. But the testimony by Gates and Mullen leaves little doubt that the administration is taking tangible steps toward a repeal. So we'll rate this one In the Works.

(Editor's note: Our original wording for this promise was "Call for repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell." But in reviewing the source of the original campaign promise, we have concluded that Obama was promising to repeal the policy, not just to speak in favor of the repeal.)