U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates advised members of Congress to wait until the Pentagon completes its review of the effects of repealing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy before changing the rule.
In a letter to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) on Friday, Gates said he “strongly opposed any legislation that seeks to change this policy prior to the completion of this vital assessment process.”
The Pentagon working group reviewing the implications of repealing DADT has until December to submit its report. The late deadline means that if Congress was to wait for the report then it is unlikely the policy will be overturned this year.
Gay rights advocates are up in arms about Gates’ recommendation, demanding that the Obama administration and Congress quickly pass the DADT repeal.
President Obama, in his State of the Union address in January, said he wanted to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” this year.
But after news broke about Gates’ letter, the White House issued a statement Friday that supported the defense secretary’s position.
“The president’s commitment to repealing ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is unequivocal,” said White House spokesman Tommy Vietor in the statement. “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,” he said. “The president is committed to getting this done both soon and right.”
Gates, while opposing immediate repeal of DADT, has already put into motion changes that make it more difficult for a military member to be dismissed for being gay.
The controversial “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was enacted by President Clinton in 1993 after Congress passed a law that same year banning homosexual from serving in the military. Though it bars openly gay individuals from serving in the U.S. military, it also bars the military from asking service members their sexual orientation.
While the Obama administration grapples with how to repeal DADT, conservative Christian leaders maintain that there should be no change to the military rule. A repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy threatens the religious freedom of military chaplains and service members, they contend.
"If chaplains are forced to counsel same-sex couples or are limited in moral teachings that they can present you can look for orthodox Christian chaplains to exit the military, leaving an insurmountable void in fostering the environment that ensures that the men and women that wear the uniform are in their best mental, emotional and spiritual condition necessary to defend the nation and the ideals that we represent," said Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council, last month.
Perkins was disinvited from speaking at a military prayer luncheon at Andrews Air Force Base in February after he criticized President Obama’s call for lifting restrictions on homosexuals serving in the military.
Arthur Schultz of the International Conference of Evangelical Chaplain Endorsers also argued that DADT should stay. At a media event last month, Schultz reminded the public that chaplains are not government religious officials but representatives from their faith groups.
"So they have to be true to the communities and the churches which sent them," Schultz stated.
"If you look at the demographics of the military today you will find that a large percentage comes from the churches ... of people who look upon the scriptural definition of sin as very definitive," he noted. "For my chaplains, the question of whether homosexuality is a sin is not open to debate."
Some Christian chaplains have threatened to resign if DADT is repealed.