Panetta: No hitches in military's repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell'

Since September, gay service members have been able to serve openly in the US military. The end of the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy is 'going very well,' Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Thursday.

Susan Walsh/AP
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta listens at left as Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin E. Dempsey speak during a briefing at the Pentagon, Thursday, May 10.

The repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" – lifting the ban on gays serving openly in the US armed forces – is "going very well" so far, having no impact on troop morale, unit cohesion, or readiness, top Pentagon officials said Thursday.

Those are the findings of a new, as-yet-unreleased Pentagon report that assesses the first months under the new policy, said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said. He attributed the repeal's smooth sailing to a roughly year-long study the US military conducted before making the change.

“I have not found any negative effect on good order and discipline,” concurred Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during a joint Pentagon briefing with Mr. Panetta.

Ending "don't ask, don't tell" represents one policy shift under the Obama administration to affirm gay rights. On Wednesday, President Obama said for the first time that he believes gay marriage should be legal, one day after North Carolina voters approved a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Dempsey's predecessor as chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Adm. Mike Mullen, had urged Congress to lift the repeal. “No matter how I look at the issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens,” he told lawmakers during a 2010 Senate hearing. “For me, it comes down to integrity.” The Senate voted to lift the ban in December 2010 by a vote of 65 to 31; the House approved the repeal 250 to 175.

An ongoing question within military ranks is whether the partners of gay service members should be accorded similar benefits to heterosexual married couples, such as access to base housing, medical care, and the right to shop in the tax-free military grocery and department stores.

Asked Thursday whether US troops who are homosexual should be allowed to marry in base chapels, Mr. Panetta said state law “controls in that situation.” Where state law “provides for that, that kind of marriage can take place.” 

For now, the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) “obviously does have some impact with regard to the benefits provided to same-sex couples,” Panetta said.

After Congress repealed the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, the Obama administration indicated that it would make the repeal of DOMA a priority in coming legislative sessions.

For now, the DADT repeal, which went into effect in September, is “going very well,” Panetta said. It "is not impacting on morale, it's not impacting on unit cohesion, it's not impacting on readiness.

“Very frankly,” he added, “the military has moved beyond it.”

“What were we afraid of?” asked Dempsey. “We didn’t know” how the repeal would go, he answered, adding that ultimately “it worked out well.” 

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