'Don't Ask' Policy Still Under Review
The White House has insisted that officials are working to overturn a policy that bans gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military, pushing back against Pentagon assessments that such efforts were low priorities and Democratic activists' complaint of slow progress.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters May 21 that President Barack Obama is committed to reversing the Clinton-era policy of "don't ask, don't tell," which blocks gays' service if they disclose their sexual orientation. Congress would have to take action to change the policy. Recent polls indicate the ban and the "don't ask, don't tell" policy are losing support.
"Try as one may, a president can't simply whisk away standing law of the United States of America," Gibbs said. "But if you're going to change the policy, if it is the law of the land, you have to do it through an act of Congress."
The administration has drawn criticism from gay and lesbian activists for not moving quickly enough to repeal the policy. Democratic activists and fundraisers met last weekend in Texas to coordinate an online campaign known as the Dallas Principles to prod the president.
"We face a historic opportunity to obtain our full civil rights; this is the moment for change," the group said in a mission statement. "No delay. No excuses."
Opponents of the policy face challenges, though.
On Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said the military has no plans to repeal the policy and that the White House had not asked for the 1993 policy to be scrapped.
Two days later, Gibbs said Morrell had backed off that position; Morrell released a statement hours later doing just that.
"President Obama has been clear in his direction to Secretary (Robert) Gates and (Joint Chiefs) Chairman (Mike) Mullen that he is committed to repeal the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy. He has also been clear that he is committed to do it in a way that is least disruptive to our troops, especially given that they have been simultaneously waging two wars for six years now," Morrell said.
"Although this will require changes to the law, the secretary and chairman are working to address the challenges associated with implementation of the president's commitment," he said.
Even so, retired Marine Gen. James Jones, the White House's national security adviser, earlier this month told ABC's "This Week" that he wasn't sure the policy would be overturned.
"We have a lot on our plate right now," he said.
By Philip Elliott
Photo: Getty Images
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press