[Excerpt] In 1993, new laws and regulations pertaining to homosexuality and U.S. military service came into effect reflecting a compromise in policy. This compromise, colloquially referred to as “don’t ask, don’t tell,” holds that the presence in the armed forces of persons who demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in same-sex acts would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion which are the essence of military capability. Under this policy, but not the law, service members are not to be asked about nor allowed to discuss their “same-sex orientation.” The law itself does not prevent service members from being asked about their sexuality. This compromise notwithstanding, the issue has remained politically contentious.
Prior to the 1993 compromise, the number of individuals discharged for homosexuality was generally declining. Since that time, the number of discharges for same-sex conduct has generally increased until 2001. However, analysis of these data shows no statistically significant difference in discharge rates for these two periods.
In recent years, several Members of Congress have expressed interest in amending “don’t ask, don’t tell.” At least two bills would repeal the law and replace it with a policy of nondiscrimination on the basis of sexual orientation—H.R. 1283 and S. 3065—have been introduced in the 111th Congress.
On March 25, 2010, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates announced changes in the department’s enforcement of the 1993 law. Under these changes, Secretary Gates said only a general or flag officer would have the authority to separate someone who had engaged in homosexual conduct, that information provided by a third party must be given under oath, and that the information given to certain individuals—lawyers, psychotherapist, clergy, and domestic abuse counselors, for example—cannot be used in support of discharge proceedings.
For more information, see CRS Report R40795, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”: A Legal Analysis, by Jody Feder.