The Pentagon plans to take the first step in ending the federal ban on gays from serving in the military next Tuesday, when it announces a special investigation into how and when to repeal the long-standing 1993 law.
But that upcoming inquiry -- and, ultimately, the end of the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" ban -- could take years to complete, officials have recently suggested.
The renewed focus on the military's policy toward gays arrives in response to the president's call to repeal "Don't ask, don't tell" in his State of the Union address on Wednesday night.
While the president provided neither a hard timeline nor a nuanced explanation for how to best accomplish the repeal, gay activists greeted Obama's remarks as a departure from the White House's heretofore silence on gay issues.
Consequently, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen will announce the first step in that process -- the investigation -- at a press event on Tuesday. Their inquiry seems to be an attempt to assuage military leaders' fears that an end to "Don't ask, don't tell" could jeopardize the U.S. military during war time.
However, activists alike fear an actual repeal may still be years away. The delay seems to be the result of general reluctance among military leaders to end the policy, and trepidation on the part of lawmakers to broach the issue ahead of what is sure to be a tough midterm election year.