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Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Monday he was "not particularly optimistic" that Congress would soon repeal the "don't ask, don' tell" policy banning openly gay and lesbian personnel from the military.
During a visit to the USS Abraham Lincoln, an aircraft carrier deployed in the Arabian Gulf, Gates also made clear that even if the Senate approves a measure already passed by the House to end the controversial 1993 policy, it would be some time before the military fully implements a repeal.
"One of the virtues of the legislation that's in front of the Congress right now is that it gives the president and me and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff latitude in how long we take to prepare for this and how long it actually would be to be implemented," Gates said in response to a question from personnel deployed on the vessel.
"Before a change in the law, we would have to certify that we've made enough preparations that it wouldn't affect unit cohesion, morale, retention and recruiting, and so on," he continued. "The legislation would give us great deal of flexibility. I am not particularly optimistic, though, that it will get done. We'll see."
Facing a diminished majority in the Senate next year due to losses in the recent mid-term congressional elections, Democrats hope to pass a broad defense authorization bill that includes the "don't ask, don't tell" language in the current lame-duck session of Congress that lasts until early January.
Republicans opposed to repeal are trying to strip the "don't ask, don't tell" language from the defense authorization bill. Having gained six Senate seats in the election to reduce the Democratic-controlled majority to 53-47 in the next congressional session, the Republicans know they'll have a better chance of blocking repeal then.
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