Military, gay rights groups prepare for the end of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta testifies on the attack on the US facilities in Benghazi, Libya, before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on February 7, 2013. CBS/AP

CBS/AP

The Pentagon is quietly preparing for the official end of its policy banning openly gay men or women from serving.

The military has begun accepting applications from openly gay recruits, the Associated Press reports, but won't act on them until the "don't ask, don't tell" policy (DADT) is officially repealed. The policy officially ends one minute after midnight on Tuesday.

"No one should be left with the impression that we are unprepared. We are prepared for repeal," Pentagon press secretary George Little said Monday, the AP reported.

Meanwhile, Army leaders on Monday prepared a memo to their generals, the Washington Post reports, saying that "from this point forward, gay and lesbian Soldiers may serve in our Army with the dignity and respect they deserve."

The letter, signed by Army chief of staff Gen. Ray Odierno, Secretary of the Army John McHugh and Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond Chandler, emphasizes that the repeal is consistent with military readiness and that the military is prepared for the policy change. "Your professionalism, leadership and respect for your fellow Soldiers will ensure that this effort is successful," the memo says.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Adm. Mike Mullen will formally announce the policy change at a news conference Tuesday.

Congress repealed DADT last December, and President Obama signed a certification of the repeal in July. The repeal could not go into effect until a 60-day waiting period passed.

Once DADT is officially over on Tuesday, various regulations will be officially revised, all pending investigations into DADT violations will be halted, and pending DADT discharges will also be halted.

There will, however, be no immediate changes to eligibility standards for military benefits. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) will still prohibit gay service members and their spouses from receiving all of the same benefits other troops receive. The Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights advocacy group, pointed out that gay service members will still receive limited benefits in areas like military family housing and access to legal services.

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese called Tuesday "a historic day for gay and lesbian service members and our nation as a whole." At the same time, he said in a statement, "It is incumbent upon fair-minded legislators to continue pushing equality forward by standing up to discriminatory legislative tactics, pushing for repeal of DOMA, examining barriers to service for qualified and dedicated transgender Americans, and ensuring gay and lesbian military families get the same access to benefits as everyone else."

Another gay rights group, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, is holding "Repeal Day" celebrations across the country Tuesday. Army veteran and SLDN executive director Aubrey Sarvis called Tuesday a "monumental day for our service members and our nation."

The group GetEqual, however, is holding protests rather than celebrations, to draw attention to discriminatory laws that still exist. "It has taken 17 years of hard work to remove this discriminatory policy and still our community faces discrimination and intolerance on a daily basis that this one important victory won't fix," GetEQUAL's director Robin McGehee said, the Huffington Post reports.

Meanwhile, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is considering a lower court decision declaring DADT unconstitutional. The government has argued the case is moot, since Congress has overturned the law, but a Republican gay rights group, the Log Cabin Republicans, is still fighting the law in court, arguing that gay troops will only be guaranteed their full rights once it's affirmed the law is unconstitutional.

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