FAQ: After The Repeal Of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

Now that Congress has lifted the ban on gays serving openly in the military, many questions remain about how the military will put the new policy into place. For example, will gay troops have their own showers and accommodations? Will same-sex partners get military health benefits? What happens to a military chaplain who says he can't minister to someone who is gay?

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

This morning, President Obama signed a law allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the military.

President BARACK OBAMA: We are not a nation that says don't ask, don't tell. We are a nation that says out of many we are one, we are a nation that welcomes the service of every patriot.

WERTHEIMER: The situation of gays in the military will not change overnight. Troops have to be trained and prepared, but the president said the chiefs of all the armed services are committed to implementing the change swiftly. He said we're not going to be dragging out feet to implement the repeal of the old don't ask, don't tell policy.

We've invited NPR's national security correspondent, Rachel Martin, to answer key questions about the new law.

Good morning, Rachel.

RACHEL MARTIN: Good morning, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: So I imagine service members themselves have a lot of questions about things that are going to be different, right?

MARTIN: Exactly. And the military has really tried to preempt some of this questioning. They've put out a set of frequently asked questions because they were anticipating that there would be some questions and concerns.

WERTHEIMER: Okay. Let's look at some of the very practical questions that troops might have, like benefits. This is something that has come up a lot. Will the partners of gay service members get benefits?

MARTIN: This was a question, Linda, that was asked a lot during the debate. And to help me answer this, and other questions, I'm going to bring in another voice here, that of Bernard Rostker. He used to be the Undersecretary of the Department of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, and he's been studying this issue of don't ask, don't tell since the policy was put into place back in 1993. So here's what Bernard Rostker told me about how repealing the ban will affect benefits for gay partners.

Mr. BERNARD ROSTKER (Former Undersecretary, Department of Defense for Personnel and Readiness): The partners of gay service members will not at this point be given any special rights or any rights that parallel those of a spouse.

MARTIN: So the military is hewing close to the federal law on this, Linda. They're not recognizing gay marriage. Instead, they're treating gay couples like heterosexual unmarried couples, who don't get marital benefits either in the military.

WERTHEIMER: Now, another of the big questions we heard a lot about was housing. What's the verdict? Will the Pentagon consider building separate showers or housing accommodations for gay service members?

MARTIN: Yeah. This has been very controversial. But the answer is no. Secretary Gates actually put this to rest earlier this month, saying that no separate facilities will be built to separate gay and straight service members. Military officials say doing so would create divisions and, quote, "inappropriately isolate a portion of the force."

WERTHEIMER: There's been talk about groups within the military who opposed ending the ban on gays serving openly. And one group is military chaplains. What happens to that group?

MARTIN: Yes, an overwhelming majority of chaplains surveyed by the Pentagon most of whom are Christian - said they'd have a problem ministering to someone who is openly gay. So the new rules say these chaplains are not supposed to discriminate based on sexual identity.

So, again, let's bring in Bernard Rostker here. He's the former undersecretary of Defense.

Mr. ROSTKER: There are chaplains in the military who think that a large number of people are not adhering to their particular beliefs and it's not just people who are gay or lesbians.

MARTIN: So in other words, Linda, he's saying that these chaplains are already ministering to people who don't share their beliefs necessarily people of other faiths, for example, Muslims and Jewish service members, atheists. So military officials say this should be no different.

WERTHEIMER: Another area where there was opposition to ending the ban was among combat units, especially the Marine Corps. What's happens there?

MARTIN: The commandant of the Marine Corps, Jim Amos, who had opposed repeal, came out this week and said essentially that he's going to salute and do his best to carry out the policy. Now, according to the Pentagon's review, as you point out, the combat units were the group most uncomfortable with this idea of repealing don't ask, don't tell. But Bernard Rostker says repealing the ban essentially leaves it up to the individual to reveal their sexual identity or not, and depending on where they serve - if they served in a unit that might be hostile to this - they might just decide that it's in their best interest not to. But it's important to point out that repealing the ban essentially ends the threat that a third party could out an individual and essentially end their military career.

WERTHEIMER: So what if someone is so opposed to serving with homosexuals that they want out of the military altogether? Will they be able to get a discharge?

MARTIN: Short answer, no. The Department of Defense has been very clear on this. They say that people who are so opposed to this idea of repealing don't ask, don't tell, they so don't want to serve with people who are openly homosexual, they can't do it. They will not permit an early discharge. Secretary Gates has said service members are held to a contract to serve and they're expected to fulfill it.

WERTHEIMER: Rachel, thank you very much.

MARTIN: You're welcome.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's national security correspondent, Rachel Martin.

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