Volunteers affix a banner to a vehicle before the San Diego gay pride parade… (Sandy Huffaker, Getty Images )
Reporting from Washington — Pentagon officials will announce Friday that the ban on homosexuals serving openly in the military can be lifted without harming military readiness, a step that will likely bring the controversial "don't ask, don't tell" policy to an end in September, two Defense officials said,
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are recommending to President Obama that he proceed with final repeal of the nearly two-decade-old policy, the officials said.
Congress voted to repeal the 1993 "don't ask, don't tell" law last year, but delayed abolishing it until top Pentagon officials and the president could certify that the change would not adversely affect the military. The ban will cease to be enforced 60 days after the certification, Congress ordered.
Repeal of the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly will thus be one of Panetta's first major acts since taking office earlier this month. He replaced Robert M. Gates, who called for elimination of the policy but pushed for the process to be gradual.
Panetta met recently with the chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines about lifting the ban, officials said. Officials who confirmed the decision would not agree to be quoted by name because it had not been made public. Spokesmen for Panetta and Mullen declined to comment.
J. Alexander Nicholson III, executive director of Servicemembers United, an organization representing gay and lesbian military personnel and veterans, praised Panetta for moving ahead with the decision shortly after taking office.
"We are glad to see that just three weeks into his tenure as secretary of Defense, he is already confident that this policy change can take place with little or no disruption to military readiness," he said.
Since the congressional vote to repeal the law last December, the military services have been training their service members on how to conduct themselves once the policy is lifted. Numerous senior officials said the training has proceeded without problems.
Yet even as the Pentagon moved to eliminate the ban, service members have continued to be kicked out of the military for acknowledging that they are homosexuals, and court challenges to the ban have continued.
On July 6, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the military could no longer enforce the ban. The decision halted any military discharges under the policy and prevented recruiters from turning away recruits for being gays or lesbians. Until the ban is formally repealed, gay rights advocates have still been telling service members not to disclose publicly if they are homosexuals.
Aubrey Sarvis, the executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Fund, which represents military personnel accused of violating the ban, said: "This Pentagon certification received by the White House this afternoon is welcomed by gay and lesbian service members who have had to serve their country in silence for far too long. The troops and their commanders are ready."