Gates approves new regs on gays in military

Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced Thursday he’s approved new regulations that would make it more difficult to kick gays out of the military.

Gates called the changes a matter of “common sense and common decency” and said the new guidelines, which go into effect immediately, will be “an important improvement” in the way the Pentagon applies the law banning gays from serving openly in the military.

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The changes allow the Pentagon to execute the law in “a fairer and more appropriate” manner, Gates added. The new regulations will serve as a stopgap measure until Congress repeals the law commonly known as “Don’t ask, don't tell."

The Pentagon’s legal counsel, Jeh Johnson, said the new regulations are by no means a moratorium on the current law and stressed that cases would move forward under the new standards. 

The new rules impose tougher evidence against gays and put higher-ranking officers in charge of the discharge procedures under the law.

In particular, the new regulations revise what constitutes “credible information” needed to initiate an inquiry or separation proceedings under “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”

In order to discourage the use of overheard statements or hearsay, outings prompted by third parties should be given under oath. Special scrutiny will be given to third parties who may be motivated to harm the service member they are outing.

Certain kinds of confidential information will not be allowed to initiate discharges on the basis of homosexual conduct. Information provided to lawyers, clergy, psychotherapists or to medical professionals would not be allowed; neither would information provided in the course of seeking help for domestic or physical abuse, or information about sexual orientation provided for security clearance investigations.

The military services have 30 days to conform to the new rules. The new guidelines will apply to all open and future cases.

“The regulatory changes announced today are another major step forward in making the 1993 ban less draconian," said Aubrey Sarvis, the executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), and organization solely focused on the repeal of the law. 


“We are especially pleased that the undue burden gay and lesbian troops carry around with them every day has been lessened. At least a gay service member can divulge his or her sexuality to a physician or therapist without fear of getting fired. Service members can also report domestic abuse without the fear of being discharged,” Sarvis added.

But Sarvis cautioned the changes in the implementation of the current ban will do little to stop the discharge of gays and lesbians.

“Let's not forget that gay and lesbian troops are fired for reasons other than third-party outings,” Sarvis said. “The Pentagon will continue to process hundreds of DADT discharges this year and thousands of service members will leave the services on their own because of DADT. This is why Congress must step up to the plate and repeal the law this year to bring these discharges to zero.”

The new Pentagon guidelines are the result of a 45-day review of the way military members are discharged based on their sexual orientation. The Pentagon is currently conducting a longer study — due Dec. 1 — on how to implement the full repeal of the law across the military services.

Gates on Thursday said he did not recommend that the law be changed until the Pentagon’s review is completed. He said that haste in repealing the law could be “very risky.”

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, who publicly expressed his support for repeal and called it “the right thing to do” on Thursday, said it is very important for the Pentagon to go through the review process. Any haste “could easily generate a very bad outcome,” he said at a Pentagon press conference.

Lawmakers in both the House and the Senate have introduced legislation to repeal "Don’t ask, don’t tell." Gates said that President Barack Obama, who has called for the repeal of the law, is “very comfortable” with the process the Pentagon has laid out.

Some senators who have sponsored legislation to repeal the ban, welcomed the new regulations on Thursday and called them a step in the right direction.

“Today’s announcement is an important step on the path to a complete repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” said Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), the sponsor of the Senate’s repeal legislation.  “I am confident that Secretary Gates and our military leadership would not have taken these initial measures to halt the discharge of many gay Americans if they did not enhance the readiness of our armed forces.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called for the suspension of all discharges based solely on sexual orientation while the Pentagon’s study is completed this year.

“Today’s announcement makes a policy that we should repeal somewhat more humane, and I welcome the Pentagon’s decision,” Levin said. “However, I think it is unconscionable to continue to discharge service members under this law when the Commander-in-Chief and the nation’s senior military officer have called for its repeal.”

-- This article was updated at 3:53 p.m.

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