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Military ban on gays likely to end soon, Pentagon says

Pentagon officials will announce Friday that the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the armed services can be lifted without harming militaryreadiness, a step that is likely to end the controversial “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in September, Defense Department officials said.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Adm. Michael G. Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are recommending to President Obama that he proceed with final repeal of the policy that has been in place for nearly two decades, the officials said.

Congress voted to rescind the 1993 “don’t ask, don’t tell” law in December, but delayed ending the ban until top Pentagon officials and the president could certify that the change would not adversely affect the military. Congress ordered that enforcement of the ban end 60 days after the certification.

Repeal of the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly will be one of Panetta’s first major acts since taking command of the Pentagon this month. He replaced Robert M. Gates, who had called for eliminating the ban but pushed for a gradual process.

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Panetta met recently with the chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines about ending the policy, officials said.

Pentagon officials who confirmed the decision Thursday evening asked not to be quoted by name because it had not been made public. Spokesmen for Panetta and Mullen declined to comment.

Alexander Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, a nonpartisan organization that represents gay and lesbian military personnel and veterans, praised Panetta for moving ahead with the decision so quickly.

“We are glad to see that just three weeks into his tenure as secretary of Defense, he is already confident that this policy change can take place with little or no disruption to military readiness,” said Nicholson, a former soldier who was discharged under the policy.

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Since the congressional vote to repeal the law, the military services have been training personnel on how to conduct themselves once the ban is lifted. Numerous senior officials said the training had proceeded without problems.

The issue remains controversial, however. This month, opponents in the House sought to use a defense spending bill to impede the repeal process.

Even as the Pentagon moved to eliminate the ban, service members have continued to be kicked out for openly acknowledging they are homosexual, and court challenges to the ban have continued.

On July 6, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the military could no longer enforce the ban. The decision halted any military discharges under the policy and prevented recruiters from turning away recruits because of their sexual orientation. The administration appealed the decision even as it moved to terminate the ban.

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Gay rights advocates have told service members not to disclose if they are gay until the law is formally repealed.

Obama promised to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” during his 2008 campaign. Gay rights groups criticized him for not making good on his promise until late last year, when the White House mounted an effort that led to the repeal vote by Congress.

david.cloud@latimes.com


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