One year later, ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ fades as divisive political issue

A year after the military implemented the repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” the issue of having openly gay service members has plummeted as a hot political topic.

The armed forces have reported few problems with implementation, and even initial critics of changing the law view implementation largely as a success.

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As a result, there’s little talk on Capitol Hill among Republicans about trying to change the law again — even if Mitt Romney wins the White House and the GOP takes the Senate.

Republican lawmakers, most of whom opposed repeal when it was passed by Congress in 2010, told The Hill they don’t have any plans to revisit the law itself next year.

The GOP lawmakers say they are deferring to military commanders on the matter — and the commanders have said they think implementation has been a success.

“I don’t want to say whether it should be taken up, but I think, unless there’s evidence of the mission of the various services [not] being carried out, it probably won’t be,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

“All I can make a judgment on is that people on the Joint Chiefs of Staff have indicated that it’s been smooth,” Grassley told The Hill. “And I can say I probably haven’t heard much from military people that I’ve contacted.”

Advocates for gay service members are celebrating the one-year anniversary of the repeal this week, including an event in New York City on Tuesday that featured Adm. Mike Mullen, the retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who was the senior military official when the law was repealed.

Gay-rights advocates say that while the repeal law itself is largely settled, there are still fights being waged on the sideline. One source pointed to fights in this year’s House version of the defense authorization bill, which banned same-sex marriage ceremonies at military installations. A battle is also still being waged over issues like same-sex spouses receiving military benefits.

“There’s certainly a few holdouts in the Congress who didn’t support repeal of ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ in the first place and have continued to throw up roadblocks,” said Zeke Stokes of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. “But every indication is that opponents are fewer and farther between.”

And lawmakers did not seem interested in re-fighting the repeal itself.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) told reporters earlier this year that he considered it a settled issue.

House aides to several of the most vocal opponents of repealing “Don’t ask, don’t tell” said nothing was planned on the issue at the moment, although one noted it was still early.

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) both said they would defer to the military on the issue.

“I think we’ll respond with what our military commanders say and what President Romney says as commander in chief,” Graham said.

While Romney opposed repealing the ban on openly gay service members when he was running for president in 2007, he told The Des Moines Register last year that he had no plans to try and reverse the repeal. Even the GOP convention platform addressed the issue only by stating that the military should not be used for “social experimentation.”

One official who works on gay-rights issues said that if Romney became president, he could instruct the Pentagon to reverse the repeal because of the way the law was written. But the official said few are concerned about this happening, particularly because of the endorsement of the success of the repeal from military brass.

Gen. James Amos, the Marine commandant, said during the debate in 2010 that he was opposed to repealing the ban on openly gay service members. But he has since endorsed the implementation, saying last month that he was “very proud” of how well the Marines have carried out the repeal, and that he doesn’t hear any problems about it now.