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Assurances of Equality in a Post-DADT World

Assurances of Equality in a Post-DADT World

The White House, military officials, and lawmakers who voted to end "don't ask, don't tell" celebrated today's official repeal as a historic moment that will better the integrity of the nation's armed forces.

The many details of a post-repeal world -- how the military will handle harassment issues, how to bring parity to gay service members and their families in the face of the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act -- were better left for another day, however, judging by some responses in news conferences on both sides of the Potomac.

This morning, President Obama, who is in New York at the United Nations for a first-ever meeting with Libya's transitional leader, praised gays and lesbians in uniform and said to those who were discharged as a result of the 1993 law, "your country deeply values your service."

"For more than two centuries, we have worked to extend America's promise to all our citizens," Obama said in a statement. "Our armed forces have been both a mirror and a catalyst of that progress, and our troops, including gays and lesbians, have given their lives to defend the freedoms and liberties that we cherish as Americans." Obama said the day was a step "toward fulfilling our nation's founding ideals." (Read the full statement here.)

Repeal of DADT does not provide for benefits equity, and no new regulations or policies to rectify that situation were announced Tuesday. Pentagon officials have said that DOMA bars them from extending certain spousal and dependent benefits to gay service members that their straight counterparts are afforded.

"We follow the law here ... And we're going to follow [DOMA] as long as it exists," Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen said Tuesday in response to a reporter's question on unequal benefits for gay service members. "Certainly we're aware there are benefits which do accrue to this change very specifically and directly that went into effect last night at midnight, and there are others ... [where] there will not be any change."

Potential harassment against openly gay service members in the absence of explicit protections in military nondiscrimination policy would be dealt with appropriately, said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta during a news conference with Mullen at the Pentagon.

"We have a zero tolerance with regards to harassment," Panetta said. "And my hope is that ... the standard disciplines that are in place will ensure that harassment doesn't take place, and that all behavior is consistent with the discipline and the best interests of our military."

Speaking at what will likely be his last news conference with Panetta before he retires on October 1, Mullen said in prepared remarks, "Today is really about every man and woman who serves this country, every man and woman in uniform, regardless of how they define themselves. And tomorrow, they'll all get up, they'll all go to work, and they'll all be able to do that work honestly. And their fellow citizens will be safe from harm. And that's all that really matters."

Following the Pentagon press conference, Defense Department general counsel Jeh Johnson and Vee Penrod, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for personnel and readiness, addressed some issues that have arisen during the post-repeal process. One is the question of whether military chaplains are allowed to officiate same-sex weddings in their official capacities, and in on-base facilities in states where marriage equality currently exists. The Navy's chief of chaplains, Rear Adm. Mark L. Tidd, issued guidance in April allowing for chaplains to do so, though military officials later suspended that guidance to conduct a legal review.

"We are very, very close to having a resolution of that issue, it's something I've been working on myself," Johnson said. Of Tidd's guidance, Johnson said, "We pulled it back for further legal review and I think we're pretty much done, and there should be something issued to the chaplain community and others very soon on that."

Penrod also confirmed that service members who were separated under DADT and given less than an honorable discharge have the opportunity to change their discharge statuses (the majority of individuals who were discharged under DADT received honorable discharges). "Through the Boards for Correction of Military Records, they do have the opportunity to correct that," she said.

Earlier today, a bipartisan group of senators -- Joseph Lieberman, Kirsten Gillibrand, Susan Collins, Mark Udall, Carl Levin, and Chris Coons -- stood alongside gay and lesbian service members at a Capitol news conference. The lawmakers were among the 65 senators who voted for repeal of the 1993 law, though only half in attendance at the press conference (Gillibrand, Coons, and Udall) have signed onto repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Lieberman indicated his support for repealing DOMA -- at least in part, as far as its prohibition of federal benefits to married same-sex couples goes.

Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that House efforts to weaken DADT repeal while broadening the reach of DOMA would be strongly opposed in the Senate. Several amendments in the House defense authorization bill passed in June focus on DADT and DOMA, including one by Missouri Rep. Todd Akin that would bar same-sex weddings on military facilities.

"We have several members of the Armed Services Committee here today. We will fight against those amendments and do everything we can to make sure that they don't appear either in the senate bill or on the floor," as well as in conference committee for the bill, Levin told The Advocate.

Collins, one of eight Republicans to vote for repeal, read from a postcard recently sent to her from a gay active-duty service member to thank the junior senator from Maine for her vote. The text of the postcard, as read Tuesday by Collins:

Senator Collins,

I will still be deployed in Afghanistan on 20 September when "don't ask, don't tell" is finally repealed. It will take a huge burden off my shoulders. A combat zone is stressful enough on its own. Thank you for your courage in favor of repeal as a Republican. I will repay your courage with continued professionalism.

An Army Soldier

"It is so poignant that he could not sign his name," Collins said.

A spokeswoman for President Bill Clinton, who signed the bill into law in 1993 as an "honorable compromise" but told CBS's Katie Couric last year that he regretted how the policy has been used to justify witch hunts of gay service members, declined to issue a statement Tuesday on the repeal of DADT.

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