Defense Secretary Announces Stricter Standards For Discharging Military Personnel Under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

March 25, 2010 12:00 am

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Improvements Welcome But Law Must Be Repealed, Says ACLU

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WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today announced changes that will raise the standard for discharging gay members of the military under the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. The Obama administration and other high-ranking military leaders, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael G. Mullen, have called for an end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Secretary Gates’ changes to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” practices include increasing the standard of evidence required in cases so that most hearsay and “malicious outings” will no longer be allowed to show that a service member is gay and mandating that third party evidence be presented under oath. In addition, the rank of officer accountable for determining whether to initiate action against a member of the military will be raised to general or flag officer.

An act of Congress is needed for a full repeal of the law and the American Civil Liberties Union strongly urges Congress to make ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” a priority this year. There are bills pending in both the House and Senate to repeal the policy.

“For nearly two decades, gay and lesbian Americans have lived with the unacceptable threat of being discharged under this policy simply for being who they are,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Secretary Gates’ changes will help protect gay and lesbian service members, but there is still a long way to go. We have the will of both our president and our military to finally rid ourselves of this discriminatory policy; now it’s up to Congress to grab this historic opportunity and make it happen.”

Though Secretary Gates has made much-needed changes to the policy, there are remaining issues that are within his jurisdiction to fix, including eliminating a policy that cuts in half the separation pay for service members discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Currently, many military service members are given separation pay when they are discharged, but those military personnel discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are only entitled to half of the amount. In addition, Secretary Gates should have ordered that all discharge proceedings apply a recent federal appeals court decision in a case brought by the ACLU of Washington on behalf of Air Force Major Margaret Witt that requires a case-by-case determination of whether the government has a sufficient interest in applying the discriminatory policy to a specific person.

“For years, gay and lesbian officers have been fighting and dying for their country alongside straight soldiers without being able to live their lives openly. Our men and women in uniform deserve to serve their country with dignity, and we should not ask anyone willing to fight for our country to hide their family and loved ones,” said Christopher Anders, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel. “Now that the Commander in Chief, the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have all roundly rejected ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ Congress should finish the job and pass a full repeal.”

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