Farewell Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell!
Top Pentagon leaders will say Friday that the military is ready to permit gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military, allowing President Obama to formally end the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, according to a U.S. official and others familiar with the plans.
In accordance with a law passed in December that set in motion the process of ending the ban, Obama first must receive notice from Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and top uniformed brass that the military is prepared to end the policy before the government stops enforcing it. The policy will end 60 days after Obama formally certifies the repeal in writing to Congress.
If Obama signs the certification in the coming days, the ban would end in late September.
Obama met Wednesday at the White House with Panetta, who will be formally sworn in to his new job by Vice President Biden on Friday at the Pentagon. The White House isn’t planning to formally mark the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell” with any type of public event until the end of the 60-day period, sources said.
Once the almost 18-year ban ends, gays and lesbians serving in military uniform will be able to publicly reveal their sexual identity without fear of dismissal or official rebuke, openly gay men and women will be able to enlist in the military, and gay couples may be allowed to wed at military chapels or live together on military bases in states that recognize same-sex marriages.
But several unresolved issues remain regarding military spousal benefits for gay couples, including potential housing options and survivor benefits. Complicating any resolution is that the Defense of Marriage Act, which bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages, will keep same-sex military couples from enjoying full spousal benefits.
Obama announced support this week for legislation to repeal DOMA, which gay activists has said would be necessary to fully end any and all official discrimination against gays in the military.
Gay activists and top military officials also have cautioned that it may take years for gays to feel completely comfortable revealing their sexual orientation to colleagues.
On the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, gay service members contacted in recent weeks said they don’t anticipate publicly disclosing their sexual orientation right away. Soldiers stationed in Afghanistan reported that despite the completion of mandatory training programs in recent months, colleagues and commanding officers have been using gay slurs or making gay jokes.
In Iraq, training courses ended weeks ago, and troops said they don’t anticipate that the policy change would adversely affect operations.
“I don’t think there’s any issue with it whatsoever,” Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, the chief spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq, said in a recent interview. “And if there are individual issues, then people will have to either conform or make a decision to leave when they can.”
As part of a bipartisan agreement that ended the policy, the military required every active-duty and reserve service member to attend training courses outlining how a repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” would change military personnel policy and benefits. Though most service members have completed their training, military officials have said courses for the Army — the largest military service — wouldn’t be completed until early August.
The decision to certify the ban follows months of criticism by gay activists that Obama should have acted sooner to end the policy. Since December, federal courts have ordered the government to stop enforcing the policy, then allowed it to continue as the Justice Department appealed the decision.
House Republicans, most of whom voted against ending the ban on grounds that it would disrupt battlefield operations, successfully amended the House version of the annual defense authorization bill with language restricting gay weddings on military bases and other similar provisions. It is unclear whether such provisions would be included in the final version of the bill, which isn’t likely to be passed by the House and Senate until after late September.
By JULIE WATSON 07/17/11 03:35 PM ET
SAN DIEGO — Gay service members from Army soldiers to Air Force officers are planning to celebrate the official end of the military’s 17-year policy that forced them to hide their sexual orientation with another official act – marriage.
A 27-year-old Air Force officer from Ohio said he can’t wait to wed his partner of two years and slip on a ring that he won’t have to take off or lie about when he goes to work each day once “don’t ask, don’t tell” is repealed. He plans to wed his boyfriend, a federal employee, in Washington D.C. where same-sex marriages are legal.
He asked not to be identified, following the advice of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a national organization representing gay troops, including the Air Force officer, that has cautioned those on active duty from coming out until the ban is off the books.
“I owe it to him and myself,” the officer said of getting married. “I don’t want to do it in the dark. I think that taints what it’s supposed to be about – which is us, our families, and our government.”
But in the eyes of the military the marriage will not be recognized and the couple will still be denied most of the benefits the Defense Department gives to heterosexual couples to ease the costs of medical care, travel, housing and other living expenses.
The Pentagon says the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act – which defines marriage for federal program purposes as a legal union between a man and woman – prohibits the Defense Department from extending those benefits to gay couples, even if they are married legally in certain states.
That means housing allowances and off-base living space for gay service members with partners could be decided as if they were living alone. Base transfers would not take into account their spouses. If two gay service members are married to each other they may be transferred to two different states or regions of the world. For heterosexual couples, the military tries to avoid that from happening.
Gay activists and even some commanders say the discrepancy will create a two-tier system in an institution built on uniformity.
“It’s not going to work,” said Army Reserve Capt. R. Clarke Cooper, who heads up the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay rights group that sued the Justice Department to stop the enforcement of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. “Taking care of our soldiers is necessary to ensure morale and unit cohesion. This creates a glaring stratification in the disbursement of support services and benefits.”
Cooper said he also plans to marry his boyfriend, a former Navy officer, in a post-repeal era.
The Obama administration has said it believes the ban could be fully lifted within weeks. A federal appeals court ruling July 6 ordered the government to immediately cease its enforcement. After the Department of Justice filed an emergency motion asking the court to reconsider its order, the court on Friday reinstated the law but with a caveat that prevents the government from investigating or penalizing anyone who is openly gay.
The Justice Department in its motion argued ending the ban abruptly now would pre-empt the “orderly process” for rolling back the policy as outlined in the law passed and signed by the president in December.
The military’s staunchly traditional, tight-knit society, meanwhile, has been quickly adapting to the social revolution: Many gay officers say they have already come out to their commanders and fellow troops, and now discuss their weekend plans without a worry.
The Air Force officer says he has dropped the code words “Red Solo Cups” – the red plastic cups used at parties – that he slipped into conversations for years to tell his partner he loved him when troops were within earshot. He now feels comfortable saying “I love you” on the phone, no longer fearful he will be interrogated by peers.
One male soldier, who also asked not to be identified, said after Congress approved repealing the law, he listed his boyfriend on his Army forms as his emergency contact and primary beneficiary of his military life insurance in case he dies in Afghanistan.
He said when he was transferred to South Korea, he and his partner had to pay for his partner’s move.
“But we were able to stay together,” the soldier wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press from Afghanistan. “During the move, I realized I needed to make sure my partner in life was taken care of if something, the worst, ever happened to me, especially knowing I was about to deploy.”
The soldier said when he added his boyfriend’s name to the paperwork as a primary beneficiary and identified him as a friend, the non-commissioned officer in charge shut his office door and told him: “Unlike the inherent benefits to being married in the Army, such as housing and sustenance allowances, our life insurance and will don’t discriminate.”
Same-sex partners can be listed as the person to be notified in case a service member is killed, injured, or missing, but current regulations prevent anyone other than immediate family – not same-sex spouses – from learning the details of the death. Same-sex spouses also will not be eligible for travel allowances to attend repatriation ceremonies if their military spouses are killed in action.
Gay spouses also will be denied military ID cards. That means they will not be allowed on bases unless they are accompanied by a service member and they cannot shop at commissaries or exchanges that have reduced prices for groceries and clothing, nor can they be treated at military medical facilities. They also will be excluded from base programs providing recreation and other such kinds of support.
Military officials say some hardship cases may be handled on an individual basis. Activists warn such an approach will create an administrative nightmare and leave the military vulnerable to accusations of making inconsistent decisions that favor some and not others.
Military families enjoy assistance from the Defense Department to compensate for the hardship of having a mother or father or both deployed to war zones and moved frequently.
“It strains a relationship when you’re gone for over a year,” said Navy medical corpsman Andrew James, 27, who lived two years apart from his same-sex partner, who could not afford to move with him when he was transferred from San Diego to Washington. “But straight couples have support so their spouses are able to be taken care of, with financial issues, and also they are able to talk to the chain of command, whereas gays can’t. They don’t have any support at all financially or emotionally, and that is really devastating.”
He said he was lucky that his relationship survived and now that he is in the Reserves, they are together again in San Diego.
The benefits issue came up repeatedly during training sessions to prepare troops for the policy change.
“There are inconsistencies,” Maj. Daryl Desimone told a class of Marines at Camp Pendleton, north of San Diego, after being asked about benefits for gay military personnel. “Anyone who looks at it logically will see there are some things that need to be worked out in the future.”
The military’s policy denying benefits to same-sex couples could change if legal challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act prove successful. The Obama administration has said it will not defend DOMA in court.
Earlier this month, the Justice Department filed a legal brief in federal court in San Francisco in support of a lesbian federal employee’s lawsuit claiming the government wrongly denied health coverage to her same-sex spouse. The brief said the lawsuit should not be dismissed because DOMA violates the constitution’s guarantee of equal protection and was motivated by hostility toward gays and lesbians.
LOS ANGELES — A federal appeals court late Friday ordered the military to temporarily continue its “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for openly gay service members, responding to a request from the Obama administration.
In its three-page decision, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said the ruling was based on new information provided by the federal government, including a declaration from Major General Steven A. Hummer, who is leading the effort to repeal the policy.
The court said it was upholding an earlier ruling to keep the policy in place “in order to provide this court with an opportunity to consider fully the issues presented in the light of these previously undisclosed facts.”
Despite the delay in dismantling the controversial policy, the ruling bars the federal government from investigating, penalizing or discharging anyone pursuant to “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
The court of appeals had halted “don’t ask, don’t tell” July 6 but the Department of Justice filed an emergency motion Thursday saying ending the policy now would pre-empt the orderly process for rolling it back, per a law signed by President Barack Obama in December.
Friday’s ruling was supported by Servicemembers United, an organization of gay and lesbian troops and veterans, but the group’s executive director Alexander Nicholson voiced frustration over the slow process of dismantling “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
“The situation with finally ending this outdated and discriminatory federal policy has become absolutely ridiculous,” said Nicholson. “It is simply not right to put the men and women of our armed forces through this circus any longer.”
The ruling didn’t elaborate on Hummer’s declaration. The Department of Justice said in a statement that it asked the court to reconsider its order “to avoid short-circuiting the repeal process established by Congress during the final stages of the implementation of the repeal.”
It said senior military leaders are expected to make their decision on certifying repeal within the next few weeks. In the meantime, the Justice Department said “it remains the policy of the Department of Defense not to ask service members or applicants about their sexual orientation, to treat all members with dignity and respect, and to ensure maintenance of good order and discipline.”
The Justice Department noted that the Defense Department has discharged only one service member since Congress voted to repeal the policy, and that was done at the request of the service member.
Last year’s ruling by the appeals court stemmed from a lawsuit filed by the Log Cabin Republicans against the Department of Justice.
The gay rights group persuaded U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Phillips to impose a worldwide injunction halting the ban last October, but the appeals court granted the government a stay, saying it wanted to give the military time to implement such a historical change.
The Log Cabin Republicans asked the court Friday to deny the motion, saying “an on-again, off-again status of the District Court’s injunction benefits no-one and plays havoc with the constitutional rights of American service members.”
The plaintiff said while only one service member has been discharged since the congressional vote, three others have been approved for discharge by the secretary of the Air Force but the processing of those actions have been “stopped in their tracks” by the court’s order. Granting the stay the government wants would allow it to act on those discharges and also allow it to put recent applicants from gay enlistees in limbo, the group said.
Justice Department attorneys said in their motion Thursday the grounds for keeping the stay in place are even stronger today than they were when this court initially entered the stay, and that disrupting the process set out by Congress would impose “significant immediate harms on the government.”
The chiefs of the military services submitted their recommendations on the repeal to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta last week. As soon as the Pentagon certifies that repealing the ban will have no effect on military readiness, the military has 60 days to implement the repeal, which could happen by September.
Lt. Col. Paul Hackett, a lawyer in the Marine Corps Reserve, said military officials are ready for the change and there is no need for a delay.
“We’re already taking steps to implement it,” he said. “Politicians do what politicians do for whatever their political need is. It’s an election year, so somebody is obviously taken that into consideration. I suspect that’s what driving this.”
Friday’s order lays out a schedule for anticipated objections and motions from both sides: the Log Cabin Republicans have until 5 p.m. Thursday to file opposition to today’s motion, and the federal government has until 5 p.m. the next day to file a reply supporting it.
The court also asks the federal government to explain by close of business Monday why the information on implementation of the Repeal Act wasn’t provided sooner.
By JULIE WATSON 07/15/11 02:04 PM ET
Now the former Navy operations specialist, who finished his service last month, is organizing what is believed to be the first military contingent of hundreds of active-duty troops and veterans to lead a gay pride parade. The group will march Saturday in San Diego’s parade, the nation’s fifth largest.
The national Servicemembers Legal Defense Network – representing gay and lesbian active-duty military personnel – said they told Sala they are warning members that it is still a risk to come out as long as “don’t ask, don’t tell” is on the books.
“We communicated to him that anyone who participates is assuming a certain level of risk,” spokesman Zeke Stokes said. “We are looking forward to a time when LGBT service members can participate in these kinds of actions without any risk.”
Sala said it’s time for the gay and lesbian community to stop hiding in fear.
“This is not in any way a violation of military policy and it’s time for the country to move on – plain and simple,” he said.
Cpl. Jaime Rincon, 21, a Camp Pendleton Marine who plans to participate, said he is grateful Sala gave him the opportunity to march as a military member in a gay pride event.
“Finally someone is stepping up to the plate, someone has said: `We’re done hiding. Let’s do something about this. Let’s show everybody we’re proud of who we are and we’re proud of our branches of service,'” he said.
The Pentagon has said the military will not discharge anyone under the policy, for now, to comply with a July 6 federal appeals court order telling the U.S. government to cease enforcing the 17-year ban. Marine Corps officials said service members who are not in uniform are within their rights to participate in a gay pride parade.
But Stokes said going public now could be used against military personnel later if the military starts enforcing the policy again. The Department of Justice has filed an emergency motion asking the court to reconsider its order, saying ending the ban now would pre-empt the “orderly process” for rolling back the 17-year-old policy as outlined in the law passed and signed by the president in December. Pentagon officials have said they expect the ban to be officially lifted soon.
Sala said the parade group will be made up of gay and heterosexual service members in a show of unity.
The troops and veterans will wear T-shirts showing their branch of service. They will walk with two horses – one draped in an American flag and the other with the rainbow-colored Pride flag – to honor service members and those who have died for equality, Sala said.
Some will accompany a half-ton military vehicle as audio equipment belts out “Taps” and military fight songs to the expected crowd of thousands. They also will hold a 30-foot American flag and a banner with the military crest on it.
Gay Pride marches nationwide have been focusing on the repeal of the military’s ban but this will be the first with active-duty troops participating as an identifiable group, gay rights activists say.
Denver’s PrideFest in June was themed “These Colors Don’t Run” to honor gay and lesbian service members, and its grand marshal was the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which had a discharged military officer represent it. Some parades have featured floats covered with photos of fallen gay troops with their faces blacked out.
Sala said the group’s presence will send a strong message that the nation is at the end of an era of discrimination.
“People (service members) are flying in from out of state to be in this because they believe `don’t ask, don’t tell’ never should have been instituted,” Sala said. “It’s about humanity and coming to honor military troops regardless of their sexual orientation in a pride parade. It’s finally able to happen.”
Outing himself was a therapeutic and moving experience, a release of years of pent up feelings of anger and humiliation at having to hide a part of his identity, Sala said.
Sala said he spent six years feeling paranoid that any misstep would mean the end of his career.
He would skirt questions about his weekend plans. He remembers lying in his bunk on a Navy ship off the coast of Iran, feeling despair there was a law forcing him to keep his life secret. So in December when the Senate approved repealing that law, an empowered Sala agreed to an interview on CW6, a San Diego TV station.
The next day he felt the stares from his fellow sailors. He expected the worst from his captain, a conservative Christian, who called him into his office.
“He told me, `I don’t care. I never cared. You’re an excellent leader,'” Sala recalled. “It was very moving.”
Sala was amazed at the sense of lightness that overtook him.
“It burns away at your soul…to just constantly feed people false pretenses just to protect yourself,” he said.
After the initial shock, his fellow sailors congratulated him for his courage, Sala said.
“It created a tremendous amount of unity,” he said.
He finished his service June 30 and plans to study politics.
Sala said he hopes the government will sanction a military presence in next year’s pride event, just as the armed forces have done in Canada and Great Britain, where uniformed soldiers have marched down the streets of Toronto and London next to scantily clad men, drag queens and civil rights activists.
“We’ve gone from instituting pure discrimination to instituting equality, which is amazing,” he said. “I’m wondering why repeal is taking so long. I say many of those who are still against this have never even put on a uniform.”
07/14/11 10:44 PM ET
SAN FRANCISCO — The federal government asked the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday to reconsider its order last week demanding an immediate halt to the enforcement of the ban on openly gay troops in the military.
The Obama administration filed the emergency motion in response to the appeals court’s decision last week to lift its stay of a lower court’s ruling last year that found the ban, known as “don’t ask, don’t tell,” unconstitutional.
Department of Justice lawyers said in the motion that ending the ban now would pre-empt the “orderly process” for rolling back the 17-year-old policy as outlined in the law passed and signed by the president in December.
“Congress made quite clear that it believed the terms of the transition were critical to the credibility and success of this historic policy change, and to ensure continued military effectiveness,” according to a statement from the Justice Department.
“Any court-ordered action forced upon the military services so close to the completion of this repeal policy pre-empts the deliberate process established by Congress and the President to ensure an orderly and successful transition of this significant policy change,” the department said.
Last year’s ruling stems from a lawsuit filed by the Log Cabin Republicans against the Department of Justice.
The gay rights group persuaded a lower court judge to declare the ban unconstitutional after a trial that put the Obama administration in the position of defending a policy it opposes.
“It is sad and disappointing that the government continues to try to prevent openly gay and lesbian Americans from serving in our armed forces,” Log Cabin Republicans attorney Dan Woods said.
“It is particularly disappointing because the President has stated that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell “weakens” our national security and signed the repeal bill with great fanfare and yet today’s filing with the Ninth Circuit is a last-ditch effort to maintain this unconstitutional policy, Woods added.
The Justice Department asked the 9th Circuit to issue a decision by the end of the day Friday.