World and Nation

Repeal of policy on gay military service faces struggle

WASHINGTON — Prospects for Congress to authorize repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy face new uncertainties as time runs out for the Senate to act and strong objections remain among Republicans and the most senior ranks of the military.

Recent developments on Capitol Hill and within the military — including unusual comments over the weekend about sleeping arrangements by the new commandant of the Marine Corps — have clouded prospects for repeal.

The uncertainty comes even as Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said for the first time that he would like the Senate to vote to authorize the repeal before the end of the year, and a not-yet-released Pentagon survey of active-duty forces and their families showed that the majority did not care if gay men and women served openly. In the meantime, a federal appeals court in California is considering whether the ban is constitutional.

The period of growing doubts in Washington has further aggravated tensions between gay rights groups and President Barack Obama, who campaigned on a promise to end the ban and allow gay men and women to serve openly.

Two main forces are working against repeal on Capitol Hill.

One is the simple matter of the congressional calendar. There will be very little time in the lame-duck session that begins next week for the Senate to vote to authorize the repeal of the policy and reconcile its measure with a version passed by the House.

The other obstacle lies in the concerns of Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the senior Republican on the Armed Services Committee. Although McCain has said in the past that he would consider authorizing a repeal of the law once the Pentagon review was complete, he faced a challenge from the right in his recent re-election fight and campaigned, in part, on a promise to preserve the 17-year-old law that requires service members to keep their sexual orientation secret.

McCain blocked consideration of a defense bill in September that included a provision allowing repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and in recent days he has been in negotiations with Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, on whether the “don’t ask, don’t tell” provision should be stripped from the bill entirely.

If that occurs, Democratic leaders could use other means to bring the measure to the floor, but they would be more time-consuming.

The chiefs of the Army, Navy and Air Force have all expressed some reluctance about ending the ban, as has the former commandant of the Marine Corps, but the comments of the current commandant, Gen. James F. Amos, are the most vivid to date.

In comments to reporters in California this weekend, Amos said that ending the ban in the middle of two wars would involve “risk” for Marines, who, unlike other service members who generally have private quarters, share rooms to promote unity.