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Obama wants to end don’t ask, don’t tell policy

WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama will ask Congress to end the Defense Department’s ban on homosexuals serving openly in the military, according to incoming White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.

Last Friday, in a video released on the presidential transition team Web site, Gibbs responded to an e-mailer’s question of whether the new president would get rid of the don’t ask, don’t tell policy.

“You don’t hear politicians give a one-word answer much, but it’s ‘Yes,’” he replied.

Gibbs’ comment was the first public statement on the policy from the Obama administration since the election. Transition office officials say the video was not meant to put new emphasis on the issue, but to reiterate the campaign promise made by Obama. Last year, Obama told Stars and Stripes that he believes the rule must be repealed.

“The key test for military service should be patriotism, a sense of duty, and a willingness to serve,” he said in a statement to the paper. “I will work with military leaders to repeal the current policy and ensure it helps accomplish our national defense goals.”

Transition officials would not reveal details of any new conversations with military leadership on the topic, and said no timeline has been set to deal with the issue.

The don’t ask, don’t tell policy, put in place in 1993, prohibits openly gay or lesbian individuals from serving in the military. The policy was a compromise measure after months of fighting between then-President Bill Clinton, who wanted to completely lift the military ban on homosexuals, and congressional and military leaders.

Since 1994 the military has discharged nearly 12,500 troops under the rule, according to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

Last July, the House Armed Services Committee held the first Congressional hearing on the policy in 15 years. Democratic and Republican leaders have promised to follow up with more hearings this session.

On Wednesday, Rep. John McHugh, R-N.Y., the ranking member of the committee, said he hopes to continue gathering opinions on the possible policy change from military leadership and junior servicemembers. He added that investigation into the topic does not promise that the policy will be overturned.

But Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., has promised in the next few weeks to reintroduce legislation repealing the policy early this legislative session, saying she believes the measure has the support to pass this year.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll released last summer found that 75 percent citizens who responded support allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the military.

A Military Times poll released last month found 58 percent of military members surveyed would oppose changing the Don’t Ask rule, and 23 percent would consider not re-enlisting if the rule was changed.

But editors at the newspapers acknowledge their survey only included subscribers to their papers, and does not reflect the military as a whole. Editors said the survey "under-represents minorities, women and junior enlisted servicemembers, and over-represents soldiers."


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