Department of Defense

WASHINGTON, Oct. 19, 2010 -- Openly gay men and lesbian women now can apply to join the military, Defense Department officials said today.

The department issued guidance Oct. 15 to process paperwork for openly gay men or lesbian applicants. The instructions come from a California federal judge's decision that the so-called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law is unconstitutional.

On Oct. 12, U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips enjoined DOD "immediately to suspend and discontinue any investigation, or discharge, separation or other proceeding that may have commenced under the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Act or its implementing regulations."

Pentagon officials said the department will abide by the judge's order, and that part of that compliance is allowing openly gay people to apply to join the military. But citing uncertainty over final disposition of the matter in the courts and on Capitol Hill, a DOD spokeswoman said potential applicants must be aware that the situation may change.

"Recruiters are reminded to set the applicants' expectations by informing them that a reversal in the court's decision of the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' law/policy may occur," Cynthia Smith said.

Phillips said yesterday that she is leaning against granting the government's request for a stay of her order. The Justice Department has indicated it will appeal her decision declaring the law unconstitutional to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Defense Department wants a deliberative, long-range look at any changes in the law, said Pentagon spokesman Marine Corps Col. Dave Lapan. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates set up a working group to examine the ramifications of a possible repeal of the law that bars gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. The group is scheduled to submit its report Dec. 1.

"The review that is going on would look at all the far-ranging impacts of what changing the law would mean," Lapan said.

A long-range plan for changing the law would include a period of transition to conduct training, to ensure that everybody was informed about new policies and procedures, Lapan explained.

"In the current environment with the stay, you don't have the time to go through all these processes and make sure you determine what effect this has on housing, benefits, training on individuals across the board," he said.

The legislative remedy would allow that work to move forward, Lapan said, as the department would have "the chance to study the impacts, to get the input from the force and to make adjustments and changes before an abrupt change in the law occurs."

Lapan said it is too early to draw any conclusions about Phillips' stay and what is happening in the force.

"I would caution against conclusions made from just a few days of having a stay in place," he said. "A repeal of the law will have far-reaching effects. Now we are sort of in a holding pattern on discharges and proceedings related to enforcing the current law."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16