By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Jan. 27, 2010 - President Barack Obama announced during his State of the Union address tonight that he intends to work with Congress and the military during the year ahead to repeal the so-called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law.
Obama said he will aim "to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are."
"It is the right thing to do," he said.
The president has long advocated allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the military, and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told reporters in June that he had directed Defense Department lawyers to explore ways to make the policy more flexible until the law is changed.
The law prohibits officials from inquiring into a servicemember's sexual orientation in the absence of statements or acts that indicate the servicemember is homosexual, but allows the services to take action against servicemembers who disclose their homosexuality by word or action.
Gates told reporters in June that he had talked with the president about how to work toward his goal of overturning the policy.
"The issue that we face is, How do we begin to do preparations and, simultaneously, the administration move forward in asking the Congress to change the law?" the secretary said.
"What we have is a law, not a policy or regulation," he said. "And as I discovered when I got into it, it is a very prescriptive law. It doesn't leave a lot to the imagination or a lot of flexibility. So one of the things we are looking at is, Is there flexibility in how we apply this law?"
Gates cited the example of someone who's been "outed by a third party," possibly the result of blackmail or a jilting.
"Does that force us to take an action?" he questioned. "I don't know the answer to that. I don't want to pretend to. But that is the kind of thing we are looking at."
Gates said he believes there's "at least a more humane way to comply with the law until the law gets changed," though he acknowledged that what that way might be is up to legal interpretation. "We have general counsel working on it," he said.
The "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law has been in effect since 1993. Previously, homosexuals were strictly banned from military service.