Gates opposes getting rid of gay ban until Pentagon study done

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is pressing the House Armed Services Committee chairman to hold off on scrapping the ban on openly gay people serving in the military.

In a letter to Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), Gates said that he believes “in the strongest possible terms” that Congress should not take any legislative action to repeal the Clinton-era ban until the Pentagon finishes a yearlong study of the impact the change would have on the military. That study is expected to be completed by Dec. 1.

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Gates’ letter comes just a couple weeks before Skelton’s committee is starting to consider the 2011 defense authorization bill — a prime target for legislation to repeal the law known as “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Gates has told Congress before that it should wait until the study is done, but the letter will provide more ammunition for Skelton, who does not want to repeal the ban. Skelton played a major role in crafting the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” legislation.  Skelton asked for Gates’ input ahead of the authorization markup.

“I strongly oppose any legislation that seeks to change this policy prior to the completion of this vital assessment process,” Gates said in his letter sent to Skelton on Friday. “Further, I hope Congress will not do so, as it would send a very damaging message to our men and women in uniform that in essence their views, concerns and perspectives do not matter on an issue with such a direct impact and consequence for them and their families.”

Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.) is the sponsor of legislation to repeal the ban. Murphy is also a member of the Armed Services Committee. While the committee likely will not take up the legislation as part of its 2011 defense authorization approval, the repeal legislation could be brought up as an amendment when the authorization act will get a full House vote.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded to the Gates letter by urging the administration to place a moratorium on dismissals of openly gay service members until the study is completed and Congress acts on repeal legislation.

“We all look forward to the report on the review of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy by the Defense Department," Pelosi said in a statement. "In the meantime, the Administration should immediately place a moratorium on dismissals under this policy until the review has been completed and Congress has acted.”

In the Senate, Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, is a strong supporter of repeal. He sponsored repeal legislation with another senior committee member, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). Levin indicated that at the very least he would be considering a moratorium on the current law.

President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address said that he is committed to repealing the law, but he did not give a timeline for scrapping the ban.

“The President’s commitment to repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is unequivocal," White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said. "This is not a question of if, but how. That’s why we’ve said that the implementation of any congressional repeal will be delayed until the DOD study of how best to implement that repeal is completed. The President is committed to getting this done both soon and right.”

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), an organization dedicated to the repeal of the ban, on Friday evening rebuked any calls for delay in scrapping the law.

“Servicemembers Legal Defense Network repudiates the delay game plan worked out among House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen, and the White House," said SLDN executive director Aubrey Sarvis. "Repeal legislation can and should move forward this year that is most respectful of the Pentagon Working Group."

This story was updated at 10:45 p.m.

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