Pentagon revises gay ban enforcement policies

The Pentagon has announced new regulations that would make it more difficult to dismiss homosexual service members.

Beginning Thursday, the military will allow only generals and flag officers to dismiss those who flout the "don't ask don't tell" law, the 17-year-old ban on openly gay men and women serving in the armed forces. Previously, colonels could order such dismissals. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who supports a repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," said the new rules would enforce the gay ban in a "fairer and more appropriate" manner.

Perhaps most significantly, third parties who provide information about others' noncompliance must testify under oath. The change aims to avoid dismissals of enlisted members on the basis of overheard statements and hearsay. The Pentagon also will revise what constitutes a "reliable person" upon whose word an inquiry could be initiated, and pay more attention to third parties acting to harm a service member.

Confidential information provided to lawyers, clergy and psychotherapists no longer will be used in support of a discharge. Information divulged to public health officials when professional assistance for physical abuse is being sought will not be used against service members.

The Pentagon top brass decided to introduce these new policies after receiving findings from a February review of how repealing the law would affect the military. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen and Vice Chairman Gen. James Cartwright supported the new rules.

"I believe these changes represent an important improvement in the way the current law is put into practice -- above all, by providing a greater measure of common sense and common decency to a process for handling what are difficult and complex issues for all involved," said Gates on Thursday.

He stressed these policies did not amount to a repeal of "don't ask don't tell," which "remains the law and we are obligated to enforce it."

Elaine Donnelly, president of the right-leaning Center for Military Readiness, however, said Gates has sent a "confusing message to the troops" and has "invited noncompliance" with the ban.

Senior Research Fellow Nathaniel Frank from the Palm Center, a think tank that supports a repeal of the ban, said the new regulations have "created situations where known gays are allowed to keep serving," but nothing short of suspending the ban will end fear of reprisals. "It is a regulatory tightening, rather than a repeal of the ban," he said.

The armed services have 30 days to conform to regulations and new policies apply to all open cases.

The Government Accountability Office has reported that during the policy's first 10 years, the cost of dismissing and replacing service members who were discharged because of their sexual orientation was at least $190 million, though an independent University of California Blue Ribbon Commission estimated that figure was much higher.

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