This afternoon, the military’s top civilian and uniformed leadership — Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen — appeared in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee. They were there to discuss the Pentagon’s proposed path forward in repealing the discriminatory and counterproductive policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT).
While acknowledging that ultimate repeal requires an act of Congress, both men stood decisively behind President Obama’s call in the State of the Union address for Congress and the military to work together this year in repealing DADT. At no other time have both a sitting Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff publicly stated their support for allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the armed forces. Adm. Mullen went even further and stated that he personally thinks it is wrong to ask gay and lesbian individuals to lie as a condition of serving their country. He went on to say that he personally has served alongside gay and lesbian service members since 1968!
In terms of specifics, Secretary Gates announced the formation of a high-level working group within the Department of Defense that will be chaired by Defense Department General Counsel Jeh Johnson and Gen. Carter Ham, Commanding General of U.S. Army Europe. The working group will be tasked with developing a final DADT repeal implementation plan by the end of the year. Additionally, Gates announced that the Department of Defense will be reviewing over the next 45 days those aspects of DADT that the Pentagon can modify without the need for new legislation from Congress.
While these are certainly very encouraging developments, the working group review process in the Pentagon and the minor modifications to DADT are not enough by themselves. The ultimate responsibility on this issue rests with Congress. They must continue the process of passing a full and complete repeal of DADT this year.