'Don't ask, don't tell' to get fall Senate hearing

The controversial "Don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military will get a hearing in the fall, according to a senator who has seized a leadership role on the issue in the face of a tough 2010 primary fight.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who is pressing for the repeal of a ban on openly gay people serving in the military, has secured a commitment from a leading defense authorizer to hold a hearing on the policy.

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Gillibrand, in a press release, thanked Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, for agreeing to hold a hearing in the fall on “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”

“ 'Don't ask, don't tell' is an unfair, outdated measure that violates the civil rights of some of our bravest, most heroic men and women,” Gillibrand said in the statement. “By repealing this policy, we will increase America's strength — both militarily and morally."

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” prohibits officials from inquiring into a military member’s sexual orientation but allows the services to take action against those members who disclose their homosexuality by word or action.

The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, the nonpartisan organization dedicated to the repeal of the law, hailed the news of a hearing in the Senate and said it is long overdue.

"We welcome the  hearing in the Senate," said Kevin Nix, spokesman for SLDN. "It would be the first time in 16 years that the Senate brings up the issue."

Levin supports a repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” but so far has been noncommittal on a repeal being initiated by Congress. Accordingly, he has shifted the burden onto the White House.

“It requires presidential leadership. This cannot be addressed successfully without that kind of leadership,” Levin told reporters at a press conference in late June. “It’s going to take some real kind of preparation inside of the services for us to successfully deal with that question.”

However, Obama and Pentagon leaders have not yet taken any steps to repeal the law, despite strong pressure from gay-rights advocates. Repealing the Clinton-era law was one of President Obama’s campaign promises, a promise he renewed after he took office.

Gillibrand initially intended to offer an amendment to the 2010 defense authorization bill, but abandoned that plan because she did not have the 60 necessary votes.

Gillibrand has been working to solidify her support among the left since her appointment to Hillary Rodham Clinton's Senate seat in February, a shift that has taken on additional urgency since liberal favorite Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) has expressed interest in the seat. Gillibrand's effort has focused on issues of importance to the gay community.

Meanwhile, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), one of only a few openly gay members of Congress, expressed confidence at a Press Club briefing on Monday that the controversial policy will be repealed in 2010. While the House has the votes to pass the repeal now, the Senate is the more problematic chamber on this issue, the lawmaker said.

Silla Brush contributed to this report.