President Obama, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen signed and submitted a one-page written certification to Congress Friday afternoon (July 22) that the military is ready to implement repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Following the required 60-day waiting period stipulated by the bill enacted by Congress last December, repeal of the federal law that banned openly gay people from military service for 18 years becomes a reality on September 20.
“Today, we have taken the final major step toward ending the discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law that undermines our military readiness and violates American principles of fairness and equality,” said President Obama, in a statement. “In accordance with the legislation that I signed into law last December, I have certified and notified Congress that the requirements for repeal have been met. ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ will end, once and for all, in 60 days—on September 20, 2011.”
The president signed the statement after receiving written confirmation by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen on Thursday night that all conditions of the DADT repeal bill passed by Congress last December had been met.
During a press briefing at the Pentagon Friday afternoon, Clifford Stanley, Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, noted that almost two million troops had received training in preparation for repeal of DADT.
“It remains the policy of the Department of Defense that sexual orientation is a personal and private matter, to treat all members with dignity and respect and to ensure maintenance of good order and discipline,” said Stanley. “There will be zero tolerance for harassment, violence or discrimination of any kind.”
U.S. Marine Corps Major General Steven Hummer, head of the Repeal Implementation Team, said that eligibility for benefits “remain the same” as before passage of the repeal measure. He noted that servicemembers are able to choose their beneficiary for many benefits but that the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal law banning federal recognition of same-sex marriages, prohibits “extension of many military benefits to same-sex couples,” including health care and allowances for housing and transportation.
“The department will continue to study existing benefits to determine those, if any, that should be reviewed based on policy, fiscal, legal and feasibility considerations, to give the service member the discretion to designate persons of their own choosing as beneficiaries,” said Hummer.
Jeh Johnson, the Defense Department’s general counsel, said the administration on Friday also submitted a brief to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which recently allowed for a temporary stay of an order to stop implementation of DADT. Johnson said the brief argues that, once repeal takes place, the existing legal challenge to DADT—Log Cabin Republicans v. U.S.—becomes moot.
Hummer also noted that there have been no reports of compromises in unit cohesion since Congress passed the repeal measure and that the response of the military has been “very, very positive.”
Approximately 14,000 servicemembers were discharged under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Rep. Barney Frank issued a statement Friday saying that “it will soon be clear that there was never any basis for this discriminatory policy in the first place other than prejudice, and the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender servicemembers will soon demonstrate that there never was a good reason to keep them from serving our country.”
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was adopted by Congress and signed by President Clinton in 1996 as a compromise, but it was really an early political loss for the Clinton administration. Candidate Clinton had won much support from the LGBT community during his campaign, in part for his promise to end the military’s discriminatory policy against gays.
But a growing acceptance of openly gay people, coupled with the escalating strain on the military’s troops fighting multiple wars, moved the political climate toward allowing gays to serve openly. Candidate Obama also promised to repeal the law and, when elected, was under strong pressure from the LGBT community to do so. But the Obama administration appeared acutely aware of the missteps of the Clinton White House and President Obama directed a deliberate strategy of careful cooperation with Pentagon officials and Congress to forge a joint resolve to repeal the law.
In his statement Friday, President Obama commended Congress and the Pentagon for their “moving forward in the careful and deliberate manner that this change requires, especially with our nation at war.“ And he thanked servicemembers, “including those who are gay or lesbian,” for their “professionalism and patriotism during this transition.”
“Every American can be proud that our extraordinary troops and their families, like earlier generations that have adapted to other changes, will only grow stronger and remain the best fighting force in the world,” said Obama, “and a reflection of the values of justice and equality that the define us as Americans.”
Aubrey Sarvis, head of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network group that worked vigorously for repeal, said Service members “celebrate this historic announcement, and they are ready for this change.”