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Politicians, DADT Repeal Advocates React to Secy. Gates's Letter

Politicians, DADT Repeal Advocates React to Secy. Gates's Letter

With Congressional repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" in jeopardy following a leaked defense department letter warning against legislative action this year, Democratic leaders have now urged a moratorium on discharging gay soldiers pending a military review of the policy.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, responding late Friday to a strongly-worded letter by Defense Secretary Robert Gates that warned against legislative repeal prior to completion of a DOD study in December, urged the Obama administration to "immediately place a moratorium on dismissals under this policy until the review has been completed and Congress has acted."

In a letter to House Armed Services Committee chairman Ike Skelton first reported by the Associated Press, Gates wrote that legislative repeal "would send a very damaging message to our men and women in uniform that in essence their views, concerns, and perspectives do not matter."

Responding to Gates's letter in a statement to The Advocate, a White House spokesman reiterated President Barack Obama's support for DADT repeal,but indicated that the Administration is against implementation, and potentially Congressional action, before the military study is issued: "The President's commitment to repealing 'don't ask, don't tell' is unequivocal. This is not a question of if, but how. That's why we've said that the implementation of any congressional repeal will be delayed until the DOD study of how best to implement that repeal is completed. The President is committed to getting this done both soon and right."

DADT repeal advocates immediately condemned the letter, saying that inaction could mean that a bill is "unlikely to pass until after the next presidential election."

"Today's letter represents a public effort by the Obama Administration to put a stop to Congressional repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell' in 2010," said Christopher Neff, deputy executive director of the Palm Center, a think tank on LGBT policy issues.

Sources said that Pelosi's request for a moratorium, which would effectively allow gay soldiers to serve openly pending repeal, is unlikely to happen and would be vigorously opposed by the Pentagon.

But it is also unclear whether the defense department's warning to Congress would curb current legislative efforts by lawmakers, including Senator Joseph Lieberman and Representative Patrick Murphy, both who have sponsored DADT repeal legislation.

"It's either right or it's wrong to discharge servicemembers from the military because of their sexual orientation," Rep. Murphy said in a statement. "I will continue fighting for a full repeal this year knowing that we are on the right side of history."

Gates's letter and the White House's response also drew swift criticism from several advocacy groups in Washington concerned that a shift in power as a result of the midterm congressional elections in November--prior to completion of the military study--may quash legislative repeal for years to come.

"If the White House and the Department of Defense had been more engaged with us and had communicated with us better about the alternatives available, Secretary Gates would surely not feel that legislative action this year would disrespect the opinions of the troops or negatively impact them and their families," Servicemembers United executive director Alex Nicholson said.

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network spokesman Trevor Thomas said that "Legislative solutions exist that bring the Pentagon and the White House together with leaders on Capitol Hill to repeal DADT this year."

"Surely neither the White House nor Secretary Gates want this historical change to happen without their imprint and leadership," Thomas said.
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