Skelton opposes repeal of 'Don't ask, don't tell'

The leading House Democrat on military policy said Friday that he opposes repealing the law that bans openly gay people from serving in the military.

Seventeen years ago, Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) played a major role in crafting the controversial law known as "Don't ask, don't tell." When President Bill Clinton wanted to lift the ban preventing gay people from joining the military, Skelton opposed the move. The end result was a compromise under which gay service members would conceal their sexual orientation.

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Now, after President Barack Obama pledged during his campaign and first year in office to repeal the law, Skelton finds himself on the opposite side once again.

"I am personally not for changing the law," he said during a C-SPAN "Newsmakers" interview that will air Sunday.

Because the military is engaged in two major conflicts, in Afghanistan and Iraq, changing the law would create "disruption" that can cause some "serious problems," Skelton said during the interview.

He said the full House Armed Services Committee won't hold a hearing on the repeal of the law. Rather, the Personnel subcommittee will hold the hearing at some point this year.

Skelton also said he would oppose efforts to repeal the law in Congress — setting the stage for a potentially intense debate within his own committee with Democrats who want to see the law repealed.

Meanwhile, Skelton's Senate counterpart, Carl Levin (D-Mich.), said that the Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on the issue at the end of January.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday that he and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen are prepared to testify before the Senate.

Gates said at a press briefing that there are continuing conversations within the Pentagon about "implementing the president's intent."

Obama has come under increasing pressure from gay-rights advocates to move on the repeal. Gay-rights advocates are eyeing the change in law for this year, but it is unclear how Obama will proceed. The Pentagon has moved slowly on the issue and there have been reports of internal dissent on how fast changes to the law should be instituted.