Defense Secretary Robert Gates is announcing changes to the military’s don’t ask don’t tell enforcement policy at this hour.

Under the new policy, only a general officer within the chain of command of the accused can discharge a service member for violating the policy. Basically, the service member would have to out him or herself to a C.O.; all third-party information would have to be given under oath under penalty of perjury. Third parties with a potential ax to grind or revenge toward the service member will not be looked upon favorably in testimony. Information from a gay member of the military to a member of the clergy, a psychologist or a medical professional is inadmissable.

Defense officials estimate that these protections would only apply to about 1 in 5 service members who would otherwise be kicked out of the military. As such, it’s a more humane bigotry, but bigotry nonetheless. The DoD’s defense is that they cannot change the policy without Congressional action. And yet their insistence on a one-year study of implementing openly gay service has delayed that Congressional action. The Defense Department does claim that they are “moving ahead on the assumption that Congress will overturn the ban on gays serving openly, but whether that will happen remains uncertain.”

And in addition to announcing these changes, Gates said that he would not recommend changes to the law until the Pentagon study was completed. That would push any move for repeal into the next Congress, when in all likelihood Democrats will have diminished majorities, if not a loss of control of one or both chambers. This also directly contradicts the President’s promise to repeal DADT this year.

I don’t think the LGBT community will find much comfort in either the changes or the remarks.

UPDATE: Spencer has a much larger piece on the announcement, and quotes a Servicemembers Legal Defense Network spokesman as saying this is “a major step toward the end of the law.”

David Dayen

David Dayen

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