Gates Memo Changes Discharge Authority for ‘Don’t Ask’ Law

WASHINGTON — Giv­en the uncer­tain­ty over the so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates has direct­ed that any dis­charges under the law be made by the ser­vice sec­re­taries in con­sul­ta­tion with the under­sec­re­tary of defense for per­son­nel and readi­ness and the defense gen­er­al coun­sel.

More uncer­tain­ty over the law looms, as the 9th Cir­cuit Court of Appeals approved a stay of an injunc­tion issued Octo­ber 12 on the law. The court’s action means “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is once again the law of the land after eight days of the injunction. 

The court grant­ed a stay of four days, said a senior defense offi­cial speak­ing on back­ground. The tem­po­rary stay lasts through Oct. 25 to give the judges the time to look at the government’s request. 

The court may extend the stay through the length of the appeals process or allow the injunc­tion –- which would allow open­ly gay and les­bian ser­vice­mem­bers to serve or open­ly gay and les­bian peo­ple to enlist –- to take effect. 

The appeals process typ­i­cal­ly last 16 months in the 9th Cir­cuit Court of Appeals, said the defense offi­cial. The court “brief­ing” sched­ule has the case on the books through March. “With a case of this mag­ni­tude, it may be soon­er,” the offi­cial said. “Like­ly [there] could be a deci­sion some­time in 2011, but I can’t pre­dict or con­trol the court’s timetable.”

The legal uncer­tain­ty caused Clif­ford L. Stan­ley, the under­sec­re­tary of defense for per­son­nel and readi­ness, to once again cau­tion gay and les­bian ser­vice­mem­bers to not alter their per­son­al con­duct dur­ing this time. 

In a memo issued today Stan­ley wrote that chang­ing their sta­tus because of the injunc­tion “may have adverse con­se­quences for them­selves or oth­ers depend­ing upon the state of the law.” 

“I also empha­size again, that it remains the pol­i­cy of the Depart­ment of Defense not to ask ser­vice­mem­bers or appli­cants about their sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion, to treat all mem­bers with dig­ni­ty and respect, and to ensure main­te­nance of good order and dis­ci­pline,” he added. 

In the mean­time, Gates’ guid­ance places the deci­sion for dis­charges under the law in few­er and more senior hands. 

“From this point for­ward and until fur­ther notice [ser­vice sec­re­taries] are the ones who will be the sep­a­ra­tion author­i­ties for their ser­vices,” the senior offi­cial said. “This is not delegable.” 

The senior defense offi­cial said there is no guid­ance on recruit­ing in the secretary’s mem­o­ran­dum to the ser­vice secretaries. 

Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma and defense lead­ers want Con­gress to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Chang­ing the law overnight by court action makes for uncer­tain­ty with­in the force, the offi­cial said. 

“Repeal of this statute that has been in place for more than 17 years should be done in an order­ly way, informed by the rec­om­men­da­tions … [and] assess­ment of the DOD Work­ing Group,” the offi­cial said. 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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