Military will write rules on repeal of gay ban

LOLITA C. BALDOR  |  Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Gays and lesbians will be treated just like any other soldiers, sailors, airmen or marines, the new rules say. But commanders will have some flexibility when they believe it’s needed to maintain order and discipline in their units.

As the U.S. military begins to map out how it will implement the new edict allowing gays to serve openly, the first order of business is drafting the regulations. The rule changes under discussion won’t dictate how troops feel about the change, but will strictly enforce how they act on it.

The U.S. Senate voted Saturday, Dec. 18, to repeal the ban on openly gay service, following earlier action by the Congress. Fulfilling a 2008 campaign promise, President Barack Obama signed the bill into law on Wednesday. But in letters to the troops over the weekend, the four military service chiefs warned that the ban is still in place, and will be for some time to come.

“The implementation and certification process will not happen immediately; it will take time,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said in an e-mail to airmen. “Meanwhile, the current law remains in effect. All Air Force members should conduct themselves accordingly.”

Recommendations to implement the repeal were outlined in a 67-page report last month, and now must be formed into concrete regulations. Defense officials said Monday that they still don’t know how long it will take before the Pentagon completes its implementation plan and certifies the change will not damage combat readiness. Once certified, the implementation would begin 60 days later.

The report, however, provides a fairly detailed preview of what troops and the American public can expect, once the new rules are in place.

It puts the heaviest burden on commanders who will have to walk a fine line between enforcing the updated code of military conduct and recognizing when they may need to make some concessions.

The plans call for strict and immediate action when the new rules are violated. But there is also an emphasis on educating troops who are having problems. For example, in a series of vignettes listed in the report, the first course of action is often counseling.

What if a recruiter refuses to process recruits who say they are gay? What about a sailor who requests a new sleeping area to get away from a gay roommate? Can a service member file a complaint against a chaplain who preaches against homosexuality? And can a gay or lesbian service member get leave to travel home when their partner is ill?

In each case the recommended process is careful and deliberate. The recruiter and the sailor should be counseled about the new rules — but in both cases commanders have the authority to approve a move if they believe it’s necessary in order to maintain unit stability. And, yes, chaplains can still preach what they believe.

The health and social benefits, however, are a murky area that Pentagon officials say they are trying to work through.

In some cases, service members may be able to designate a same-sex partner for benefits. In most cases, however, they are treated much like unmarried heterosexual couples. So, same-sex partners will probably not be able to share on-base housing, and commanders don’t have to make allowances for same-sex couples when making duty assignments around the globe.

On Monday, Pentagon spokesman Marine Col. Dave Lapan was peppered with questions about the progress of the implementation plan and what it will say. He said he had no answers yet, as Pentagon officials are just beginning to pull the plan together.

But he also stressed that the ban on open service is still in effect, and any service member who decided to declare he or she was gay would risk enforcement of the current law — which calls for removal from service. Under a new process put in place by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, any discharges under the so-called don’t ask, don’t tell law now have to be approved by the service secretaries.

Gates has said the military will not drag out the implementation process, but it will move carefully and deliberately.

—  John Wright

Joe Lieberman blocks Senate Republicans’ last-ditch effort to kill DADT repeal

On the eve of Wednesday morning’s signing ceremony for the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” Republicans in the Senate reportedly made a last-ditch effort to undercut the measure. Once again, though, it was Connecticut Independent Joe Lieberman to the rescue, as he objected to — and blocked — a “poison pill” amendment proposed by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Politico reports:

A last-ditch effort by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to complicate the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was blocked Tuesday night after Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) objected, Senate aides said.

McConnell attempted to add an amendment to the so-called stripped-down defense authorization bill that would have required the consent of the military service chiefs to proceed with “don’t ask” repeal. Under legislation passed by the Senate last week, certifications are required from the president, the secretary of defense and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. All the incumbents in those positions support repeal.

“It was a McConnell proposal,” a GOP aide confirmed. “There was an attempted to get unanimous consent for it to be included in the defense bill and someone objected.”

—  John Wright

John Cornyn calls DADT repeal ‘a disgrace’

John Cornyn, shown wearing his favorite hat, is a disgrace to Texas.

Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn thinks it’s a disgrace that gay servicemembers will no longer have to lie about who they are. Cornyn, perhaps best known to the LGBT community for equating us to “box turtles,” further cemented his legacy as an anti-gay bigot when he twice voted against repealing “don’t ask don’t tell” today — then released the below statement calling the measure’s passage “a disgrace.” If there was ever any doubt that Cornyn was blatantly pandering when he accepted an award from Log Cabin Republicans earlier this year, it was thoroughly erased today. This man is not, nor will he ever be, our friend. Here’s his statement:

“With three of the four military service chiefs expressing clear reservations over the proposed repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, today’s vote shows blatant disregard for the opinions of those who know our military best. With our troops engaged in combat overseas, now is not the time to increase the level of stress on our Armed Forces through such a dramatic policy change. It is a disgrace that this latest item from the liberal legislative wish-list is being jammed through at the expense of military readiness.”

For the record, Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison also twice voted against DADT repeal today. Here’s her statement:

“After speaking with military personnel and former leaders of our armed services, I remain very concerned about how repealing this policy could negatively impact unit cohesion and overall troop readiness – especially during a time of war. Therefore, I did not support a repeal of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy.”

—  John Wright