U.S. President Barack Obama says he might ask the current congress to end the ban on homosexuals serving in the military, rather than try to get the change through the new, more conservative congress that was elected on Tuesday and takes office in January.
President Obama promised to end the ban when he campaigned for the White House two years ago. But after he took office, he adopted a go-slow approach, deferring to military commanders who were concerned about the affect of such a change at a time when U.S. troops were fighting two wars.
A year ago, the top U.S. military officer, Navy Admiral Michael Mullen, endorsed the plan to end the ban. And U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates launched a 10-month study on what the impact would be and how the change could be implemented with minimal disruptions. That review is due on December 1.
At a post-election news conference on Wednesday, President Obama said he wants to move quickly after the study is delivered. "That will give us time to act, potentially, during the lame duck session to change this policy," he said.
A "lame duck" session of Congress would be the final series of meetings by the current congress in November and December -- before the Republican Party takes control of the House of Representatives and becomes a larger minority in the Senate.
President Bill Clinton tried to end the ban on homosexuals in the U.S. military during the early-1990s, but he was forced by congressional and military opponents to accept a compromise called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." That law, which President Obama wants to repeal, enables homosexuals to serve in the military only if they keep their sexual orientation secret.
A repeal of the law passed the House earlier this year, but failed in the Senate. Lawmakers who support the repeal say they would like to bring it up again during the lame duck session of Congress. But opponents, including one of the most prominent Senate voices on defense issues, Arizona's John McCain, have vowed to do everything in their power to prevent the change.
Analyst Heather Hurlburt of the Washington-based National Security Network says the change might pass during the lame duck session, if Secretary Gates and senior military leaders conclude that it will not be disruptive.
"Once the secretary of defense and the joint chiefs have spoken on how they want to do it, really what problem can Congress possibly have with that? So I'd like to think that could move forward. But I fully acknowledge that that one may be a hard sell," Hurburt said.
And it will only get more difficult in the new Congress, according to Loren Thompson of the Virginia-based Lexington Institute. "A significant part of the Republican electoral base are social conservatives who are very much opposed to the broadening of the role that gays have in civil life and in the military. Based on that, I would have to conclude that efforts to loosen up, to liberalize, the ability of gays to serve [in the military] are now going to be under close scrutiny by the Republicans," Thompson said.
President Obama says he is determined to fulfill his campaign promise and end the ban. He says public opinion polls show that most Americans support him on that.
The effort comes in the midst of a court case in which a federal judge ruled that the ban on homosexuals in the military is unconstitutional. As a result, last month there was no ban for eight days. A higher court reinstated the ban while it considers an appeal, which might take a year or more. President Obama said Wednesday that the uncertainty surrounding the legality of the ban is creating more disruption for the U.S. military than simply ending the ban would cause.