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Mullen ready to repeal gay policy

The long-awaited study on gays in the military serving openly not only takes the pulse of the force on the issue — concluding change can occur with little risk to readiness — but also details how it will work in practice.

Will service members with same-sex partners qualify for the higher “with dependents” housing allowance rate? No.

Will same-sex partners qualify for military health coverage? No.

What if a gay couple is legally married in a state allowing such unions?

Still no, because the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act defines marriage, for federal program purposes, as “a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife” and defines “spouse” to mean “ a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.”

Because this law bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, it also that blocks spousal benefits for gay partners across hundreds of federal programs including many military benefits. There are, however, active court challenges.

Will service members with same-sex partners be eligible for on-base family housing? Legally, that could be allowed. It already is for gay civilian employees working for some federal agencies. But the study advises against opening military base housing to such arrangements.

Will gay members be able to designate partners as beneficiaries of Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance and federal Thrift Savings Plans? Yes.

Will same-sex partners be eligible for base shopping, family support programs, legal assistance, space-available travel and relocation assistance when members move to new assignments?

Some of these benefits could be allowed. It will depend on how the Department of Defense and the services define “dependent” and “family member” for benefit eligibility. For now, if gays are allowed to serve openly, the report recommends that regulations not be revised to benefit same-sex partners, at least “for the time being.”

“Other federal agencies are managing this by establishing a domestic partner status for same-sex partners, through an affidavit or other evidence of the relationship,” the report says. “Within the military community, where benefits are much more prominent and visible…administering such a system distracts from the military’s core mission and runs counter to the Secretary of Defense’s basic direction that implementation of a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell be done in a way that minimizes disruption to the force.”

Will members who identify themselves as gay have to use separate bathroom and shower facilities? Absolutely not, though the report acknowledges privacy concerns will become a bigger leadership challenge.

Gen. Carter Ham, commander of U.S. Army Europe, and DoD General Counsel Jeh Johnson, led the nine-month examination of the impact of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the law that for 17 years has barred homosexuals from serving openly in U.S. armed forces.

In their 350-page, two-part report, Ham and Johnson conclude it can be repealed without endangering readiness, but it will require strong leadership and careful preparation.

Marines and Army soldiers — the ground forces doing most of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan — reacted most negatively, with 48 percent of ground combat Marines expecting unit performance to be harmed.

But the overall response from the military community was more positive. Seventy percent of members predicted that allowing gays to serve openly would have a positive, mixed or no effect on units.

The House has passed its version of the 2011 defense authorization bill with language to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The Senate’s defense bill has similar language but Republicans are opposing repeal in the lame duck session and will gain seats for the new Congress in January.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, testified for repeal in February saying gay Americans shouldn’t have to lie to serve their country.

That “personal opinion” then, Mullen said Tuesday, “is now my professional view — that this is a policy change that we can make. And we can do it in a relatively low-risk fashion, given the time and given the ability to mitigate whatever risk is out there through strong leadership.”