Updated February 03, 2010Doing away with the policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the U.S. military is no longer a question of "whether," but of "how," Defense Sec. Robert Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Feb. 2.
"The question before us is not whether the military prepares to make this change but how we must -- how we best prepare for it," Gates stated in his testimony. "We have received our orders from the commander in chief and we are moving out accordingly."
Shortly after taking office, President Obama called on military leaders to end the 17-year-old and always controversial policy banning openly gay people from serving in the military. In his recent State of the Union Address, he reminded the military of his order. "This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are," Obama said. "It's the right thing to do."
Sec. Gates told the Senate committee that he would be appointing a Defense Department "working group" to assess the potential impacts of eliminating Don't Ask, Don't Tell while actively engaged in two wars.
"The mandate of this working group is to thoroughly, objectively and methodically examine all aspects of this question, and produce its finding and recommendations in the form of an implementation plan by the end of this calendar year," Gates told the committee.
Also testifying before the committee, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, added his support to ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell. "No matter how I look at this issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens," he said.
A Voice of Opposition: Support for ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell was not unanimous, as Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) expressed concern over the move.
"This would be a substantial and controversial change to a policy that has been successful for two decades," he stated. "It would also present yet another challenge to our military at a time of already tremendous stress and strain."
In his remarks, Sen. McCain made it clear that he did not oppose gays and lesbians serving in the military, but was opposed to ending Don't Ask Don't Tell while the military was actively fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"Many gay and lesbian Americans are serving admirably in our armed forces, even giving their lives so that we and others can know the blessings of peace," he said. "I honor their sacrifice, and I honor them."
"Our men and women in uniform are fighting two wars, guarding the front lines against a global terrorist enemy, serving and sacrificing on battlefields far from home, and working to rebuild and reform the force after more than eight years of conflict," stated Sen. McCain. "At this moment of immense hardship for our armed services, we should not be seeking to overturn the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy."