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Defense Secretary Gates Announces A More Lenient Approach Towards Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Discharges

In February, Defense Secretary Robert Gates ordered a 45-day review into how the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell military policy could be enforced more humanely, and this morning Gates announced more lenient guidelines for enforcing the ban against homosexual conduct and behavior. The new rules, which would apply to all pending and future discharge cases, effectively limit enforcement of the policy to those cases where a servicemember actively outs himself or herself:

Raise the level of the officer who is authorized to start a fact-finding inquiry or order a separation proceeding

Raise what constitutes credible information to begin a fact finding inquiry. Information provided by third parties should be given under oath and use of hearsay will be discouraged.

– Revise what constitutes a reliable person. Special scrutiny on third parties that may be motivated to harm the accused servicemember.

– Certain confidential information from lawyers, clergy, doctors and security clearance information cannot be used to begin a separation.

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During the press conference, both Gates and Mike Mullen — the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — reiterated that they did not recommend changing the law before the Pentagon completes its year-long study of the policy. “There is a great deal we don’t know about this, in terms of the views of our servicemembers, in terms of the views of their families and influences,” Gates said. “There is a lot we’d have to address in terms of what would be required in the way of changed regulations in terms of benefits. There are a lot of unanswered questions in terms of the implementation of this.”

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But many are arguing that changing the regulations is easier and can be done more expeditiously than Gates and Mullen are suggesting. On Tuesday, the Center for American Progress released a report noting that any repeal “of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell [must] not be perceived as a complicated puzzle requiring complex solutions to minor problems.”

The report points out that “numerous official government studies dating back to the 1950s” have already confirmed that “reversing the ban on gays and lesbians in the military will not undermine unit effectiveness or cohesion” and recommends dealing with benefits by applying the June 2009 White House memo — that establishes a procedure for extending certain benefits to the same-sex partners of federal civil service employees — to same-sex partners of service members. Read the full report here.

Last month, Servicemembers United — a national organization of gay and lesbian troops and veterans — proposed a plan that would lock in a date for full Congressional repeal and give the military 18 months to “do its studies, work through its issues, and plan for successful implementation.”