Discharging a gay person for violating the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy will draw unprecedented scrutiny under new orders from Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who is already pushing to repeal the ban on gays serving openly in the U.S. military.
Guidelines to be announced Thursday call for testimony from third parties to be given under oath. The discharge of enlisted personnel must be approved by officers who hold a rank equivalent to a one-star general or above, according to military and defense officials familiar with the plan. They spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of the announcement.
The goal is to ensure that the law is applied fairly and consistently across the military and that flimsy testimony from third parties is eliminated, the officials said. The plan is considered a stopgap measure until Congress decides whether to repeal the 1993 law.
President Barack Obama has said the ban unfairly punishes gays and has called on Congress to lift it. Gates agrees but says he wants to move slowly and has ordered an internal assessment, due Dec. 1, on how the Defense Department could lift the ban without damaging morale or hurting recruitment.
In the meantime, Gates has said he wants to find ways to implement the law more "humanely" and prevent cases in which gay service members are outed by someone carrying a grudge.
Gay rights groups say the plan to require high-level scrutiny for discharges under "don't ask, don't tell" is a step in the right direction but add that Congress must still act to lift the ban.
"Service members would still be leaving the services under 'don't ask, don't tell' every day, so what we need is repeal," said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director, Servicemembers Legal Defense Fund.
Military officials, Republicans and even some conservative Democrats have been reluctant to embrace the change. They say they support Gates' review of the policy but that no changes should be made if they might hurt military effectiveness.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and other Democrats say the time has come to repeal the ban and have called for an immediate moratorium on dismissals.
Nathaniel Frank, a senior research fellow with the Palm Center, which supports a repeal of the ban, said it is unclear how much of an impact the new guidelines would have because regulations already restrict third-party allegations.
"Anything that continues to allow the discharge of servicemembers for something that research shows has no bearing on military effectiveness will not go far enough," Frank said.
AP Broadcast Correspondent Sagar Meghani contributed to this report.
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