WASHINGTON (BP)–Defense Secretary Roberts Gates announced changes Thursday to the regulation of the policy against homosexuals serving in the military — a change that critics say simply undermines the law, which they say is needed because of the military’s unique nature.
Gates’ order does not overturn the policy banning homosexual service — that can be done only by Congress — but it could cut down on the number of investigations. The order raises the level of officer who is authorized to initiate an investigation and requires a charge by a third party to be delivered under oath. It also forbids discussions between homosexual servicepersons and lawyers, clergy, psychotherapists and medical personnel from being used in an investigation.
Gates said the new policy will make enforcement of the military’s policy — often called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — “fairer and more appropriate.” The Joint Chiefs of Staff, some of whom back the current law, supported the new regulations unanimously, he said. The new policy applies to existing cases.
“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,” Gates said.
President Obama wants to see the military’s policy reversed, as do Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen. But three members of the Joint Chiefs — representatives of the Army, Air Force and Marines — expressed reservations about overturning current policy during testimony before House and Senate committees Feb. 23-25.
Under the new rules, only a general or a flag officer can initiate an investigation.
Tony Perkins, a former Marine and now president of the Family Research Council, criticized Gates’ order.
“These new guidelines undermine enforcement of the law banning homosexuality in the military,” Perkins said in a statement. “Generals and flag officers lack the time to launch such investigations. The new regulations only invite open defiance of the law which was passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton.”
Perkins quoted the law, which states, “The presence in the armed forces of persons who demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability.”
Said Perkins, “The [constitutional] obligation of the president and his appointees (including the Secretary of Defense) is to ‘faithfully execute’ those laws…. Today’s action will raise serious questions in the minds of active duty military personnel about the enforcement of laws and lawful orders.”
Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, said the order sends “a confusing message to the troops.”
“Instead of taking the opportunity to clarify the meaning and intent of the law, Secretary Gates seems to be condoning unwarranted delays,” Donnelly said. “Local commanders who are trying to do their duty by enforcing the law deserve support, not second-guessing by higher-level officials who seem more concerned about President Obama’s views than they are about the terms and intent of the law.”
Perkins, Donnelly and other supporters of the current law say it is needed because military personnel are required to live together in close quarters, even using community showers. In fact, the 1993 law that Congress passed made an identical argument, saying the policy is necessary because “living conditions and working conditions” in the military — particularly in combat — “are often spartan, primitive, and characterized by forced intimacy with little or no privacy.” It further said, “The prohibition against homosexual conduct is a longstanding element of military law that continues to be necessary in the unique circumstances of military service.”
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.