In a briefing yesterday, the Pentagon laid out the steps for the eventual repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, which will pave the way for openly gay members to serve. A training program will start next month, and ultimately open service could begin by the summer.
The new training programme is expected to begin in February. Among other elements, commanders will be trained to watch for signs of unease among the troops, and troops will be instructed on the new policy.
Benefits programmes will not change, the Pentagon warned. Because US federal law does not recognise same-sex marriage, military benefits such as medical care, travel and housing allowances and others will not be extended to same-sex couples.
When the training programme is complete, the ban will officially end 60 days after President Barack Obama certifies that the change in policy will not negatively affect military readiness.
The briefing was met with dismay from gay rights activists, who believe that this would make gay service members separate but equal in the eyes of the military. One activist called it “civil rights lite”, concerned that not making LGB service members a protected class could lead to bigotry and harassment. Defense Secretary Robert Gates did say in a memo that “harassment or unlawful discrimination of any service member is prohibited.”
I’m more concerned about the housing and benefits policies. Clearly the military has no interest in doing anything that would contradict DOMA. And yet federal employees have same-sex benefits, many of them extended by President Obama last year. The military could go further. The real solution to this is to have DOMA ruled unconstitutional in court.
Meanwhile, this decision on military separation pay is absurd.
Congress made a judgment that military personnel who serve their country for at least six years and are honorably discharged should get separation pay. The Department of Defense decided to cut that separation pay in half for any service member who is discharged for “homosexuality.” The ACLU has filed a class action lawsuit challenging that discriminatory internal policy of the Department of Defense as unconstitutional. The separation-pay policy is not part of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the Department can change it immediately without waiting for congressional approval.
The lead plaintiff in the case is Richard Collins, a decorated former staff-sergeant in the U.S. Air Force who served for nine years until he was discharged from service under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Mr. Collins’s superiors learned that he is gay when two civilian co-workers observed him exchange a kiss with his civilian boyfriend. Mr. Collins received an honorable discharge from the Air Force but discovered after the discharge had been completed that his separation pay had been cut in half on the grounds of “homosexuality.”
The struggle for full equal rights will have to continue.