WASHINGTON – Earlier this month, gay rights groups lamented Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ announcement that he would not certify the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” before leaving office. Now, President Barack Obama is signaling that those supporters won’t have to wait long for the new defense secretary to end the controversial law.
In comments at a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual pride month event at the White House last night, Obama said that “in a matter of weeks, not months, I expect to certify the change in policy –- and we will end ‘don't ask, don't tell’ once and for all.” He told supporters that said the repeal is part of a broad swath of policy changes that shows he “delivered on what I promised” during his presidential campaign.
“A lot of people said we weren’t going to be able to get ‘don't ask, don't tell’ done, including a bunch of people in this room,” he said, drawing a round of laughs from the crowd. “It took two years through Congress -– working with Adm. [Mike] Mullen and Secretary Gates and the Pentagon. We had to hold together a fragile coalition. We had to keep up the pressure. But the bottom line is we got it done.”
The repeal won’t actually be finalized until 60 days after Obama and Pentagon leaders certify that the military is ready for the change, meaning that “don’t ask, don’t tell” won’t truly disappear until September if certification occurs in July.
Gay rights groups have warned that until then, the 18-year-old ban on openly gay troops is still in effect, and servicemembers who come out of the closet before then can still technically lose their jobs.
Four individuals have been kicked out of the military in recent weeks under the policy, although military officials say all of those separations were individuals who wanted out of the service.