Pentagon chief Leon Panetta has decided to end the ban on homosexuals serving openly in the armed services, certifying that repealing the 17-year-old prohibition will not hurt the military’s ability to fight, officials said on Thursday.
His decision was expected, and comes two weeks after the chiefs of the military services told Panetta that ending the ban would not affect military readiness. Dismantling the ban fulfills a 2008 campaign promise by President Barack Obama, who helped usher the repeal through Congress and signed it into law late last December.
The move also triggered vehement opposition from some in Congress and initial reluctance from military leaders, who worried that it could trigger a backlash and erode troop cohesion on the battlefield.
Defence officials said the announcement will be made on Friday afternoon. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision has not been made public.
Mr. Obama also is expected to certify the change. Repeal of the ban would become effective 60 days after certification, which could open the military to gays by the end of September.
The so-called ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy, was adopted during the Clinton administration and has come under an onslaught of legal challenges, including a federal court ruling in early July that ordered the U.S. government to immediately stop enforcing the gay ban.
Days later, however, the Obama administration appealed the ruling, saying that abruptly ending the ban would complicate the orderly process for repeal that had already been set in motion.
A San Francisco appeals court agreed, but added a caveat — the government cannot investigate, penalize or discharge anyone for being openly gay.
The military services have conducted extensive internal studies and about five months of training to gauge how troops would react to the change, which was triggered by a law passed by Congress and signed by Obama in December.
A survey of U.S. troops last year found that some two-thirds would not care if the ban were to be lifted. Opposition to the repeal was strongest among combat troops, particularly Marines.
As training has gone on this year, senior military leaders have said they have seen no real problems.
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who retired at the end of June, told The Associated Press in an interview that he saw no roadblocks to the repeal, and that people had been “mildly and pleasantly surprised at the lack of pushback in the training.”
The bulk of the military has been trained on the new law, including a complex swath of details about how the change will or will not affect housing, transfers or other health and social benefits. In most cases, the guidelines demand that gays and lesbians be treated just as any other soldier, sailor, airman or Marine is treated.
There will be differences however, since same sex partners will not be given the same housing and other benefits as married couples. Instead, they more often will be treated like unmarried couples.
Democratic Sen. Jack Reed, a former Army Ranger, said in a statement on Thursday that the ban was “an ineffective policy that prevented talented, highly-skilled soldiers from honourably serving our nation.”
He said he expects the transition to go smoothly, and added that, “ultimately, overturning this policy will improve military readiness and make our country both stronger and more secure.”
Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a national organization representing gay troops, said Panetta’s action is welcomed by gay and lesbian troops “who have had to serve their country in silence for far too long.”