WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House on Monday backed a proposal that would put the United States on a path toward repeal of the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military.
The proposal, which was the subject of talks involving the White House, Pentagon, Congress and gay rights groups, would allow Congress to repeal the Clinton-era policy called “don’t ask, don’t tell,” but it would remain in place until the Pentagon finishes a study of the issue in December.
The talks were held as the House of Representatives is expected to vote later this week on a Defense Department spending bill that is likely to include an amendment to repeal the policy, with conditions.
The policy, instituted in 1993, was a compromise between those who wanted gays to be able to serve openly in the military and those who wanted an absolute ban on homosexuals.
A gay rights group, Human Rights Campaign, hailed the agreement as a breakthrough that would allow the removal of a “stain” in the country’s laws.
The Obama administration endorsed the proposed amendment on Monday in a letter to congressional leaders from Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag.
Completion of the repeal would require certification from President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, that the new law would not have a negative impact on readiness, unit cohesion, recruitment and troop retention.
While Mullen has supported a repeal, several prominent officers have questioned lifting the ban at a time when the U.S. military is stretched by wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Orszag wrote to three members of Congress involved in the talks that the administration “is of the view that the proposed amendment meets the concerns raised by the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”
The three members were Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, a Democrat, Senator Joe Lieberman, an independent, and Representative Patrick Murphy, a Democrat.
Obama called for the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in his State of the Union speech in January and gay rights advocates who supported his 2008 presidential campaign have demanded that he follow through on his pledge.
“Today’s announcement paves the path to fulfill the president’s call to end ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ this year and puts us one step closer to removing this stain from the laws of our nation,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese.
Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell and Phil Stewart, editing by Anthony Boadle