Obama To Sign Repeal Of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

The Senate on Saturday voted to repeal the military's "don't ask don't tell" policy. President Obama is expected to sign the legislation into law this week, but the measure probably won't go into effect for months.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep. Renee Montagne is on vacation until just after Christmas. Linda Wertheimer is sitting in this week.

Linda, welcome back.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

Thank you, Steve. I'm very glad to be back.

Over the weekend, the Senate gave final approval to a bill eliminating the "don't ask, don't tell" rule that barred gays and lesbians from serving openly.

INSKEEP: Now, the military faces the practical challenge of enforcing those new rules. We begin our coverage with our Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman.

Tom, Good morning.

TOM GOLDMAN: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Let's remember here: The old rule was that gays and lesbians could serve as long as nobody knew about their sexuality or talked about it. What, exactly, is the new rule going to be?

BOWMAN: Well, the Senate voted 65 to 31 to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" law over the weekend. They joined the House, which already voted. Now, what it means is that that 17-year-old law, which barred gays and lesbians from serving openly and led to the dismissal of some 14,000, will before long come to an end. Now, the president, of course, has to sign the repeal into law, but that doesn't mean gays can serve openly immediately. There's a process that's going to have to take place first.

INSKEEP: OK. So what does the military do?

BOWMAN: Well, the Pentagon officials say they want to do this methodically, and it will take some time - at least a number of months. Here's the Pentagon's general counsel, Jeh Johnson, a few weeks ago. He was among those who helped conduct the military study of attitudes toward "don't ask, don't tell."

Mr. JEH JOHNSON (General Counsel, Department of Defense): I think the answer would be not fast, but not drawn out or protracted, either. I think that it could become counterproductive for unit cohesion, good order and discipline if this process were drawn out over an extended period of time.

BOWMAN: Now others, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, also say you don't want to go too fast on this. They say this is a big change. So, there's a real -a sense of striking the right balance. You don't want to go too fast but not too slowly, either.

INSKEEP: Well, I wonder what's going to happen in this interim period, Tom Bowman, because it seems likely with a couple million people serving the military, someone is going to be found out as gay next week, before the rules are formally changed. What happens in this interim?

BOWMAN: Well, they say no one's been kicked out for quite some time and few months ago, Defense Secretary Gates sort of raised the bar for dismissals. A more senior officer has to adjudicate this case. So really nothing has happened for a few months anyway.

So they don't expect to be, you know - anybody to be, probably, kicked out at all for, you know, even in this interim period - which is going to last, clearly, for months.

INSKEEP: Now, let's remember what the military's views of this change in policy were. There was a Pentagon survey. It found broad support - something more than 70 percent for allowing gays to serve openly.

At the same time, Republicans went into that same survey and found numbers that they felt suggested broad opposition or at least significant opposition to this change. Well, how significant is this resistance within the military, as best you can tell, Tom?

BOWMAN: Well, you're right. Overall, you know, 70 percent said it's, you know, allowing gays to serve openly won't hurt the military. But many do have a problem with it. There's some resistance with combat troops. About 50 percent of Army combat troops, and 60 percent of Marine combat troops, were against this.

So clearly, there's going to have to be some special attention paid to them. Also, military chaplains - many of those surveyed were against gays serving openly, saying homosexuality is a sin.

And Pentagon officials have said that, you know, there's got to be some type of special message to the chaplains. Also, Senator Jim Webb of Virginia, meanwhile, is suggesting, listen, you could certify different units, different groups at different times - in other words, letting it take longer before getting the combat troops on board with this. And he's a former Marine, and a very respected voice on military matters.

INSKEEP: Well, we're about to hear from NPR's Ari Shapiro, who's been talking with gay rights activists and getting their response to this change. Is this relatively slow process of implementing the law going to be fast enough for gay rights activists?

BOWMAN: You know, I'm not so sure. There was one gay rights activist I talked with a few weeks back, and he would like to have gays starting to serve openly in the spring. Now, whether or not that can happen, we'll have to see. But again, this is going to take at least several months.

INSKEEP: Tom, thanks very much.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman, on news that Congress has repealed the "don't ask, don't tell" law applying to military service.

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