Leading gay advocacy groups and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are criticizing comments made by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, urging Congress not to repeal the military's so-called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.
In a letter to the House Armed Services Committee, both military officials restated their opposition to calls by some Congressional Democrats to repeal the ban before a Pentagon review ends this December. They also resisted a moratorium that would prevent gay servicemembers from being discharged while Congress debates a possible repeal of the law.
Both Gates and Mullen have stated their opposition since the Obama administration announced its desire to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. But today’s letter contains their strongest language to date.
“I believe in the strongest possible terms that the Department must, prior to any legislative action, be allowed the opportunity to conduct a thorough, objective, and systematic assessment of the impact of such a policy change: develop an attentive comprehensive implementation plan, and provide the President and the Congress with the results of this effort in order to ensure that this step is taken in the most informed and effective manner.”
In a statement the Human Rights Campaign, a leading gay advocacy group, criticized the letter saying it, “is inconceivable that the Secretary of Defense would so blatantly undermine the Commander-in-Chief’s policy commitment” to end the ban, and that “there is no reason that Congress cannot move forward with repeal while the Pentagon’s review of how – not if – to end the ban on open service continues apace."
The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network said the letter seemed to indicate “The President of the United States appears to have reversed himself” from his statement at this year’s State of the Union to seek Congressional action to repeal the ban this year. The advocacy group also said it “repudiates” what it called a “delay game plan”.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) also said in a statement that she looked forward to the review’s report, but that “in the meantime, the Administration should immediately place a moratorium on dismissals under this policy until the review has been completed and Congress has acted.”
The letter was prompted by
an inquiry this week from committee chairman, Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO), who
asked Gates to weigh in on the “advisability of legislative proposals that may
impact the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.“ Skelton has advocated keeping the
ban in place.
In his response Gates said, "Our military must be afforded the opportunity to inform us of their concerns, insights and suggestions if we are to carry out this change successfully."
He argued that a repeal of the policy before the review’s completion "would send a very damaging message to our men and women in uniform that in essence, their views, concerns and perspectives do not matter on an issue with such a direct impact and consequence for them and their families"
The Human Rights Campaign countered that if Congress failed to repeal the ban this year it would “continue to send the message to the thousands of gay and lesbian Americans serving their country in silence that their views and concerns, and the impact on them and their families, do not matter to the military leadership, including their Commander-in-Chief. ”