Obama officially ends 'don't ask, don't tell' military policy
WASHINGTON — The ban on gays in the military has stood for nearly a century.
In 60 days, after decades of discharges, lawsuits and lobbying, that will change.
On Friday, President Barack Obama fulfilled a 2008 campaign pledge and formally ended the ban. After meeting with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the president certified to Congress that repealing the ban would not jeopardize the military's ability to fight.
"As commander in chief, I have always been confident that our dedicated men and women in uniform would transition to a new policy in an orderly manner that preserves unit cohesion, recruitment, retention and military effectiveness," Obama said in a statement. "Service me bers will no longer be forced to hide who they are in order to serve our country."
Friday's milestone was expected to be reached under the repeal law Congress passed in December. But homosexuality has been prohibited in the military since World War I, and for years recruits were screened and questioned about their sexual orientation.
Then-President Bill Clinton relaxed the law a bit in 1993, saying the military could not ask whether service members were gay. Gay service members could be discharged only if their sexual orientation became known. That policy became known as "don't ask, don't tell."
Obama's action means that effective Sept. 20, gay service members will be able to openly acknowledge their sexual orientation. And it opens the door for those discharged over the past 17 years under Clinton's policy to re-apply to the military and possibly serve again.
Repeal of the ban got mixed reviews from Congress, which has been bitterly divided on the issue.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, a Democrat, hailed it as the end of a discriminatory policy.
"Gay and lesbian service members have fought and died for our country and are serving in our military now," said Levin, noting that the policy has required them to conceal their sexual orientation. "There is no way to justify a policy that requires our young men and women in uniform to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens."
But the Armed Services Committee Chairman in the House of Representatives, Republican Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, criticized the action as flawed and said his panel will vigorously oversee the process as it unfolds.
"I am disappointed the President hasn't properly addressed the concerns expressed by military service chiefs before certifying the repeal," said McKeon.