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Pentagon may name "don't ask, don't tell" advisers
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Robert Gates is expected to name a team of advisers to recommend steps the U.S. military should take to comply with an eventual repeal of its "don't ask, don't tell" policy barring gays from serving openly in uniform, congressional sources said.
President Barack Obama has called for action this year, increasing pressure on a reluctant U.S. military to begin taking steps in advance of any repeal of the law, which permits gays to serve as long they hide their sexual orientation.
Critics charge that having gays openly serve in the military would undermine morale and discipline. Others reject such complaints and call the current policy unfair and unwise.
In testimony to lawmakers on Tuesday, Gates is expected to announce the appointment of two advisers, one military and one civilian, to recommend steps that the Pentagon should take.
Their review is expected to look at several sensitive issues, including whether the military should extend marriage and bereavement benefits to the partners of gay soldiers, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Pentagon officials declined to comment.
Gates has voiced caution in the past against moving too quickly to repeal the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which began in the early 1990s, and Pentagon officials have made clear any changes should be incremental.
Some of the Pentagon's top officers oppose lifting the restrictions until at least the United States completes its withdrawal from Iraq.
In his first State of the Union speech last week, Obama called for ending the policy, saying: "This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are."
The policy was signed into law in 1993 by Democratic President Bill Clinton as a compromise after the military objected to his calls to open its doors to gays.
It bans openly gay people from serving in the military but prohibits military officials from initiating inquiries on sexual orientation when soldiers are abiding by the rules.
More than 13,500 members of the military have been dismissed under the law, according to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an advocacy group that opposes the ban.
In a posting on its Website, the Legal Defense Network said it expected the Pentagon to announce on Tuesday that "don't ask, don't tell" discharges were down by almost 30 percent last year. "The new trend is indeed welcoming news, but it is not a substitute for full repeal in 2010."
(Reporting by Adam Entous; Editing by Stacey Joyce)
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