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Military to Review Don't Ask, Don't Tell

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By Tanya Roth, Esq. on February 03, 2010 9:55 AM

The slow march toward integrating openly gay servicemen and women into the U.S. military appears to have begun with testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee today in Washington D.C. Testifying before the committee was Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mike Mullen. The New York Times reports that in an unusually strong statement, Adm. Mullen told the committee, "allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do."

According to the Times report, committee chair Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said that he looked forward to the change in a policy that had never make sense to him. Ranking Republican Sen. John McCain (R-Arz.), however, supports the don't ask don't tell policy and was "deeply disappointed" in the steps taken today toward change.

Public opinion on the matter has changed since don't ask don't tell went into effect. According to the Times, unlike public opinion in 1993 when the law was passed, a majority of Americans now support allowing openly gay military members to serve. A wide survey on the issue of active duty service members has not recently been taken. In his comments, Senator McCain referred to a petition signed by one thousand retired admirals and generals opposing any change to the current law. However, as in opinions regarding gay marriage, this issue may be one that reflects a strong generational gap in attitudes. Secretary Gates has said he would ask the Rand Corporation to update their 1993 study on the effect of allowing gay men and women to serve openly. 

The practical steps toward change will move surely, but slowly. Secretary Gates has appointed the two men responsible for spearheading the review of policy, one civilian and one military officer: Jeh C. Johnson, the Pentagon's top legal counsel, and Gen. Carter F. Ham, the commander of the United States Army in Europe. Pentagon officials have said the review could take up to a year.

Immediate effects will be apparent in a change in how the current policy is applied. Secretary Gates told the committee today they would attempt to apply current policy in a "fairer manner." This may refer to a change in the practice of allowing service members to be discharged on evidence given by a third party. As MSNBC reports, this change may help service members like David Hall, a former Air Force sergeant, who was discharged in 2002 after someone else reported that he was gay.

"That ended it," said Hall, who now works for a gay rights advocacy group. "Just like that, based off what one person said, ended my dream of getting to fly planes."

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