Gates urges Senate to repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates today urged the Senate to vote to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that prohibits gays from openly serving in the military, saying if a repeal occurs, it is essential that it come in the form of legislation, rather than from a court order.

Citing a study released by the Pentagon today that showed over two-thirds of those surveyed say that open service by gays and lesbians would not constitute a problem, Gates said, “I strongly urge the Senate to pass this legislation and send it to the president for signature before the end of this year. I believe this is a matter of system urgency because as we have seen in the past year, the federal courts are increasingly becoming involved in this issue.”

“It is only a matter of time before the federal courts are drawn once more into the fray with the real possible that this change would be imposed immediately by judicial fiat,” Gates said, calling this “by far, the most disruptive and damaging scenario I can imagine, and one of the most hazardous to military morale, readiness, and battlefield performance.”

“Those that choose not to act legislatively are rolling the dice that this policy will not be abruptly overturned by the courts,” he added.

Gates stressed the need for a “process that allows for a well prepared and well considered implementation,” and said that if DADT is repealed he is committed to ensuring that “the changes are implemented in such a way as to minimize negative impact on the morale, cohesion and effectiveness on units about to deploy to the front lines.”

Gates did note that the survey was not a resounding endorsement of DADT repeal.

“Within the combat arms specialties and units, there is a higher level of discontent, of discomfort and resistance to changing the current policy,” he said. “Those findings and the potential implications for America’s fighting forces remain a source of concern to the service chiefs and to me.”

“Today’s report confirms that a strong majority of our military men and women and their families—more than two thirds—are prepared to serve alongside Americans who are openly gay and lesbian,” said President Obama in a statement released several hours after Gates spoke. “This report also confirms that, by every measure—from unit cohesion to recruitment and retention to family readiness—we can transition to a new policy in a responsible manner that ensures our military strength and national security.”

Obama also noted the significance of the fact that “for the first time since this law was enacted 17 years ago today, both the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have publicly endorsed ending this policy.”

The President went on to call ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ “discriminatory” and echoed Gates’ call for the Senate to repeal the policy.