WASHINGTON (AFNS) --
The law is passed, the studies completed, the findings certified and the service member training accomplished. Today, after years of debate and months of preparation, the Defense Department starts on a new footing with the repeal of the so-called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law that since 1993 has banned gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military.
"Statements about sexual orientation will no longer be a bar to enlisting in the military or a cause for dismissal," said Army Maj. Gen. Gary S. Patton, the chief of staff for the Pentagon's repeal implementation team.
In addition, former service members separated from the military under Don't Ask, Don't Tell based solely on their sexual orientation will be eligible to reapply to return to military service.
Patton said their applications will be evaluated using the same standards as all other candidates, and decisions will be based on needs of the service.
As these long-anticipated changes take place, Patton said he expects the repeal implementation to stay on track because of the pre-repeal training across the force. In addition, many other existing policies considered "sexual-orientation neutral" remain in place.
Duty assignments won't be affected, and living and working conditions won't change, Patton said. Service members won't be separated or segregated based on sexual orientation, and will continue to share billeting and berthing as in the past.
With repeal, benefits will remain as they are. Service members will be able to designate whomever they want to receive member-designated benefits such as Serviceman's Group Life Insurance, he said.
Other benefits, such as basic allowance for housing, are limited by law and statute to cover only opposite-sex spouses and can't be extended to same-sex partners, Patton said.
However, the Defense Department is studying the possible extension of other benefits where eligibility is not specifically defined by law, such as use of military morale, welfare and recreation facilities to same-sex partners.
"We have not arrived at a decision on that," Patton said. "The department continues to explore that possibility, post-repeal."
Although the vast majority of military members and their families surveyed before the repeal indicated they had no issues with the repeal, Patton said he recognizes that some may. To those, he has a message: "We are not trying to change your beliefs. You have your freedom to exercise your beliefs and your freedom of speech."
But with that, he said, "you have to maintain your dignity and respect for others."
No new policy will allow anyone who disagrees with the repeal to break their contractual obligations. Anyone who has complaints or issues associated with the repeal should take them to a commander or inspector general, Patton said. Sexual orientation issues will not be addressed by equal opportunity channels in the way gender, race and religion issues are.
With the repeal in effect, Patton said he expects military members will honor it.
"The repeal is a law," he said. "The military follows the law and we are executing this as part of our mission."
A key in carrying out the mission, he said, is a principle emphasized during mandatory pre-repeal training throughout the force that the military has embraced throughout its history.
"The training focused on the changes in policy, that sexual orientation is not a reason for a person to be denied enlistment in the service or separated from the service. And that we continue to treat all service members with dignity and respect," Patton said.
Part of that respect, he said, is to allow all service members to live honest lives.
"During Don't Ask, Don't Tell, gay and lesbian service members were required by law to withhold their sexual orientation, and in some cases, they potentially violated their own personal integrity," Patton said. "Upon repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, they won't be placed in that predicament."
As a result, the repeal "will strengthen the military," he said. "It will continue to allow us to keep gay and lesbian service members in the military, and we will be a better military for it."
(166AW site administrator's note: This article
was first posted on the Air Force Public Web site on Sept. 20, 2011)