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US ends ban on gays serving in military
Formal declaration by president means gay people can be open about their sexuality and reapply if they were discharged.
Last Modified: 23 Jul 2011 08:21
US defence and diplomatic officials are now charged with implementing the policy repeal. [AFP]

US President Barack Obama has formally lifted a ban on homosexual men and women serving openly in the military, fulfilling a pledge he made during his election campaign in 2008.

Following a meeting on Friday with Defence Secretary Leon Panetta and Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Obama certified to Congress that repealing the ban would not jeopardise the military's ability to fight.

"As commander in chief, I have always been confident that our dedicated men and women in uniform would transition to a new policy in an orderly manner that preserves unit cohesion, recruitment, retention and military effectiveness,'' Obama said in a statement.

"Service members will no longer be forced to hide who they are in order to serve our country.''

Congress passed a law in December repealing the so-called Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, which maintained the military's ban on homosexuals but tacitly allowed them to serve if they did not reveal their sexual orientation. 

The president's declaration means gays will be allowed to serve openly from September 20.

Homosexuality had been prohibited in the military since World War I, and for years recruits were screened and
questioned about their sexual orientation.

In 1993, President Bill Clinton relaxed the law by instituting Don't Ask, Don't Tell, saying the military could not ask if service members were gay.

Gay service members could be discharged only if their sexual orientation became known.

Reapplications

The repeal opens the door for those discharged over the past 17 years under Clinton's policy to reapply to the military and possibly serve again.

"There is no way to justify a policy that requires our young men and women in uniform to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens."

Democratic Senator Carl Levin

Jeremy Johnson, a former sailor who served for 10 years in the navy before coming out to his commanding officer in 2007, said he would be one of those reapplying.

Johnson, who has been working with a recruiter for months to return to the service, said he was initially bitter about leaving the navy.

Now, he said, "I'm very excited. I think it's going to benefit a lot of people ... It's been a full roller coaster ride for me.''

For Zoe Dunning, Obama's decision was the culmination of a nearly two-decade struggle.

The retired US navy commander won a legal battle to stay in the service after coming out as a lesbian in January 1993. More than 13 years and two promotions later, she retired in 2007.

"The day-to-day life of the military will not change,'' Dunning said in a phone interview from California on Friday.

"However, it will change significantly for gay, lesbian and bisexual service members, who no longer have to live in fear that this day may be the day they get fired or investigated."

At Camp Pendleton in California, Marine Corporal Jaime Rincon, 21, said: "No one has to be scared anymore of who they are. We can serve our country and not worry about repercussions.''

Rincon, on active duty, said he was heading out with a group of military friends to celebrate.

Republicans unconvinced

The repeal of the ban received mixed reviews from Congress, which has been bitterly divided on the issue.

Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, a Democrat, hailed it as the end of a discriminatory policy.

"Gay and lesbian service members have fought and died for our country and are serving in our military now,'' said Levin, noting that the policy has required them to conceal their sexual orientation.

"There is no way to justify a policy that requires our young men and women in uniform to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens."

"There will be zero tolerance for harassment, violence or discrimination of any kind."

Undersecretary of Defence Clifford Stanley

But House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P "Buck'' McKeon, a Republican, criticised the action as flawed and said his panel will vigorously oversee the process as it unfolds.

"I am disappointed the president hasn't properly addressed the concerns expressed by military service chiefs before certifying the repeal,'' said McKeon.

"Their worry that the combat readiness of our force could be placed at risk, particularly those serving on the front lines in Afghanistan and Iraq, must be taken seriously.''

Advocacy groups that fought for the change called Friday's decision long-overdue, while opponents said it was a political payoff to left-leaning gay and lesbian activists.

Military approved repeal

Among military leaders there was initial reluctance from those who worried that the repeal could cause a backlash and erode troop cohesion on the battlefield.

But two weeks ago, after reviewing the training of nearly two million troops, the chiefs of the military services told Panetta that ending the ban would not affect military readiness.

On Friday, officials said they will continue to monitor the process and makes changes as needed.

Pentagon officials said that they will review military policies and benefits during the next 60 days to iron out legal and technical details, including how the repeal will affect housing, military transfers and other health and social benefits.

Clifford Stanley, undersecretary of defence for personnel and readiness, said "there will be zero tolerance for harassment, violence or discrimination of any kind".

In most cases, officials said the guidelines require that gays and lesbians be treated like any other member of the military, and the Pentagon will not set up separate barracks or bathroom facilities based on sexual
orientation.

There will be differences, however. Same sex partners will not get the same housing, and other benefits, as married couples. Instead, they are more likely to be treated like unmarried couples.

Service members may also designate their same-sex partners as beneficiaries for insurance and other benefits - something they may have avoided earlier for fear it would cause their dismissal.

One of the thornier issues is gay marriage.

An initial move by the navy earlier this year to train chaplains about same-sex civil unions in states where they are legal was shelved after more than five dozen Congress members objected.

The Pentagon says the issue is still under review.    

Source:
Agencies
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