WASHINGTON-President Barack Obama and top military officials late Friday afternoon certified the repeal of the long-standing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. The long-expected certification means Obama and his military team believe that military readiness would not be harmed by ending the 18-year-old ban on homosexuals serving openly in the armed forces.
"As commander in chief, I have always been confident that our dedicated men and women in uniform would transition to a new policy in an orderly manner that preserves unit cohesion, recruitment, retention, and military effectiveness," the president said in a statement.
The decision to certify the repeal, which takes effect in 60 days, was made by Obama, new Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen. The move represents the final step in what has been a long push by the Obama administration and congressional Democrats to end the policy put in place by Congress and President Bill Clinton in 1993.
The end of the policy on Sept. 20 will likely give Obama a boost from his liberal supporters heading into the November 2012 election. Many gay activists have been disappointed that Obama and his team have not moved fast enough on issues important to them such as same-sex marriage.
But conservatives are worried that this action will come at the expense of the military and threaten traditional marriage.
"America's military has barred homosexual conduct in the ranks ever since George Washington's Continental Army," said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. "President Obama, Secretary Panetta, and Adm. Mullen have no basis-other than liberal political correctness-for 'certifying' that a reversal of this longstanding policy would do no harm."
Many conservatives are questioning the timing of the Friday afternoon announcement for certifying such a seismic change. Lawmakers have long used that time frame as a dumping ground for bad or controversial news that would likely get little attention as Americans head into their weekends.
Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, said Obama now "owns" the new military this repeal will create.
"History will hold accountable President Obama, members of the previous lame-duck Congress, and gay activists who misused the federal courts in order to impose . . . policies that will undermine morale and readiness in the all-volunteer force," Donnelly said in a statement.
After years of unsuccessful attempts by liberals to kill the policy, the now successful effort began last year soon after voters put the House back in Republican hands in November's elections. But before the new, more conservative Congress began work in January, Democrats controlling Congress, sensing this could be their last chance for several years, mounted a final drive to end the policy last December.
As the legislative calendar drew to a close, the tightly divided Senate held a Saturday vote on Dec. 18 to strike down the ban. Eight Republicans joined the Democrats in the 65-to-31 vote.
A 2010 Pentagon review that cited a low risk to military effectiveness in the aftermath of any repeal gave cover to many lawmakers who voted to end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
But a 30-page Defense Department document completed in April revealed that members of Congress were deceived by some officials attached to the Pentagon report who wanted "to gain momentum in support of a legislative change during the 'lame duck' session of Congress following the Nov. 2, 2010, elections."
This April review by the Defense Department's inspector general concluded that someone possessing "a strongly emotional attachment to the issue" and "likely a pro-repeal agenda" broke security rules and leaked misleading selections of the data to the media.
On Nov. 11, 2010, about a month before the final vote in Congress, The Washington Post published a story, which was cited on the Senate floor during debates, saying that 70 percent of active-duty and reserve troops surveyed were not worried about a repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
But that number was misleading at best: The 70 percent was inflated because it combined four answers to the survey: very positively, positively, mixed, and no effect.
"If sources had desired to further an anti-repeal bias for the article," the military concluded in its April report on the leak, "he/she could likewise have combined four results categories from that same survey question to conclude that 82 percent of respondents said the effect of repealing the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy would be negative, mixed or no effect."
An even closer examination of the original 256-page policy review published last year reveals that only 9.4 percent of respondents said the change would have a mostly positive effect on a unit's combat performance.
Meanwhile, nearly 60 percent of Marine and Army combat forces responded that there would be a negative impact to their units if the policy were repealed. That number climbs to almost 67 percent of those serving in Marine combat arms.
Also, almost 24 percent of respondents said they would leave the military or think about leaving sooner than planned if the repeal happened.
Congress held minimal hearings on the Pentagon study and voted, with no amendments allowed, on repeal just 18 days after this complex study's release.
The Center for Military Readiness said the Defense Department's April investigative report reveals a contrived process to "neutralize military opposition to repeal of the law by manufacturing an illusion of support. The administration misused military personnel, funds, and facilities to help President Obama to deliver on political promises."
The Center for Military Readiness' Donnelly added, "Trusting personnel who participated in the 2010 surveys and focus groups in good faith were misused as props to create the impression that military people don't care about this issue."
Moving forward, Friday's repeal certification opens up questions about the future consequences of the move. The first casualties of the repeal may be chaplains and religious liberty. Many expect lawsuits to be brought against service members who oppose the homosexual lifestyle.
The questions that military chaplains-both active and retired-are asking include: Will chaplains be allowed to preach on what the Bible says about homosexuality without being accused of hate speech? Will conservative denominations pull their endorsement of chaplains?
Already this year, congressional lawmakers had to step in after a Navy memo declared that that same-sex weddings could occur at chapels in states that recognize gay marriage.
In response, the House Armed Services Committee in May approved legislation that explicitly prohibits U.S. military bases from being used to solemnize same-sex unions. The committee also approved a measure that bars military chaplains from officiating at gay marriages.
The Navy directive has since been revoked. But it reveals what now awaits the military and its chaplains with the repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.
"We are worried that they are casting freedom of religion versus civil rights," retired Navy chaplain Mark Jumper of Illinois told me last December soon after the congressional votes on repeal. "It could lead to a chilling effect on the freedom of religion."