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White House backs deal on gays in military

‘Don’t ask’ policy would end; review would continue

REACHING AN ACCORD The measure allows 'the Department of Defense to assess the results of the review,' wrote budget chief Peter Orszag. REACHING AN ACCORD
The measure allows "the Department of Defense to assess the results of the review," wrote budget chief Peter Orszag.
By Philip Elliott
Associated Press / May 25, 2010

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WASHINGTON — A proposal to step up the repeal of the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military but still allow the Pentagon time — perhaps even years — to implement new policies won the White House’s backing yesterday after administration officials met with gay-rights activists.

The White House budget office sent a letter supporting the proposal to remove the Clinton-era “Don’t ask, don’t tell’’ law even as the Pentagon continues a review of the system.

Implementation of policy for gays serving openly would still require the approval of President Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen. How long implementation might take is not known.

“The proposed amendment will allow for completion of the comprehensive review, enable the Department of Defense to assess the results of the review, and ensure that the implementation of the repeal is consistent with standards of military readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion, recruiting, and retention,’’ budget chief Peter Orszag wrote to Representative Patrick Murphy, the Pennsylvania Democrat leading the repeal in the House.

Murphy, an Iraq war veteran, was expected to introduce the legislative proposal today. Gay-rights groups urged a quick vote, which could come as early as Thursday.

“Without a repeal vote by Congress this year, the Pentagon’s hands are tied and the armed forces will be forced to continue adhering to the discriminatory ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ law,’’ said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign.

The White House had hoped lawmakers would delay action until Pentagon officials had completed their study so fellow Democrats would not face criticism that they moved too quickly or too far ahead of public opinion in this election year. Instead, administration officials recognized it could not stop Congress in its effort to repeal the 1993 ban and joined the negotiations.

Hours after activists met at the White House, top Democratic lawmakers met on Capitol Hill and approved the final version of a brokered deal that adds the repeal to the annual defense spending bill.

Obama called for the repeal during his State of the Union address this year, and Gates and Mullen have echoed his views but have cautioned any action must be paced.

In a speech last year at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., Gates noted that the 1948 executive order for racial integration took five years to implement.

On Capitol Hill, the third-ranking House Republican promised unified GOP opposition to lifting the ban. “The American people don’t want the American military to be used to advance a liberal political agenda. And House Republicans will stand on that principle,’’ said Mike Pence, an Indiana Republican.