WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced new measures yesterday to make it more difficult for the military to discharge openly gay men and lesbians.
Political activists who support President Obama's call for Congress to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy offered full support for the interim steps, even though they criticized the administration as taking too long to relax enforcement of the law.
Military personnel, in particular members of the officer corps, heard that they face reprimand or worse if they go outside the official Pentagon review of "don't ask, don't tell" to publicly advocate maintaining the policy.
Both Mr. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, criticized a three-star general in command of Army forces in the Pacific for urging those who support the ban to write their elected officials and lobby their unit's leaders.
"If those of us who are in favor of retaining the current policy do not speak up, there is no chance to retain the current policy," the commander, Lt. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon, wrote in a letter published March 8 in Stars and Stripes.
The developments that played out at the Pentagon, across the military and among gay rights groups served as more evidence of the deep disagreements over the policy, adopted in 1993, which allows gay men and lesbians to serve in the military if they keep their sexual orientation a secret. Only Congress can repeal the law, and President Obama is urging that step.
The Pentagon study, expected by the end of the year, will assess the views of service members, families, and other relevant groups on how lifting the ban should be carried out. Mr. Gates said the study was not to determine whether to repeal the law, only how best to institute any repeal by Congress. "Doing it hastily is very risky," Mr. Gates said.
The interim measures take effect immediately, Mr. Gates said, and will ensure that the policy is carried out in "a fairer and more appropriate manner," and in a way based on "common sense and common decency."