Effective today, it will be much harder to discharge gays and lesbians from the U.S. military, despite the fact that Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) is still in effect. This is the first concrete change indicating that the military plans to follow through on a promise to phase out the policy in the foreseeable future.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates today announced a new set of measures that would make dismissing gays far more difficult than it has been up to this point. The changes, Gates said, would provide "a greater measure of common sense and common decency," and, while they would leave DADT in place, they would encourage enforcement "in a fairer and more appropriate manner." In that sense, the new rules are an in-between stage, where DADT exists, but is being modified in anticipation of a Congressional change to the law.
Effective immediately, and applying to cases that are already in process, only high-ranking officers will be able to bring and prosecute discharges. The kind of information involved in those complaints will likewise change, with a much higher standard for what kind of information is deemed credible. Hearsay evidence will be reduced, and people giving evidence in DADT cases will need to swear an oath, as well as undergoing "special scrutiny," with investigators looking out for potential grudge charges. Certain kinds of private conversations, such as those with lawyers, doctors, therapists or clergy, will now be treated as confidential. Said Secretary Gates today, "I believe these changes represent an important improvement, in the way the current law is put into practice, above all by providing a greater measure of common sense and common decency, to a process for handling what are difficult and complex issues for all involved."
The changes were announced after Gates established a panel to review DADT earlier this year, per President Obama's unequivocal statement in the State of the Union address that he intended to end the policy, and subsequent congressional hearings. Legislation to end DADT was introduced into the US Senate earlier this month; a similar bill has been stalled in the House of Representatives since the summer of 2009.