WASHINGTON — A proposal to step up the repeal of the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military but still allow the Pentagon time — perhaps even years — to implement new policies won the White House’s backing on Monday after administration officials met with gay-rights activists.
The White House budget office sent a letter supporting the proposal to remove the Clinton-era “don’t ask, don’t tell” law even as the Pentagon continues a review of the system.
Implementation of policy for gays serving openly would still require the approval of President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen. How long implementation might take is not known.
“The proposed amendment will allow for completion of the comprehensive review, enable the Department of Defense to assess the results of the review, and ensure that the implementation of the of the repeal is consistent with standards of military readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion, recruiting and retention,” budget chief Peter Orszag wrote in a letter to Rep. Patrick Murphy, the Pennsylvania Democrat leading the repeal in the House.
Murphy, an Iraq war veteran, was expected to introduce the legislative proposal today. Gay-rights groups urged a quick vote, which could come as early as Thursday.
The administration has said that any repeal should start in Congress and have the backing of top military leaders. On Capitol Hill, the third-ranking House Republican promised unified GOP opposition to lifting the ban.
“The American people don’t want the American military to be used to advance a liberal political agenda. And House Republicans will stand on that principle,” said Mike Pence, R-Ind.
Pence urged Democrats who control both chambers to wait until the Pentagon completes its review of what a repeal would take.
The military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was imposed by a 1993 law intended as a compromise between President Bill Clinton, who wanted to lift the ban on gays entirely, and a reluctant Congress and military that said doing so would threaten order.
Under the policy, the military can’t ask recruits their sexual orientation. In turn, service members can’t say they are gay or bisexual, engage in homosexual activity or marry a member of the same sex.
Between 1997 and 2008, the Defense Department discharged more than 10,500 service members for violating the policy.