State of the Union 2011: Obama says 'don't ask, don't tell' to formally end this year
President Obama vowed Tuesday to formally end the ban on gays in the military this year, offering the most details yet on how quickly the military plans to end "don't ask, don't tell."
"Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love," Obama said. "And with that change, I call on all of our college campuses to open their doors to our military recruiters and the ROTC. It is time to leave behind the divisive battles of the past. It is time to move forward as one nation."
Several of the nation's top colleges and universities, including Harvard, Columbia and Stanford, have blocked military recruiters from using campus buildings and offices, but have said they would eventually provide full access once the military ends its "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
"This has been a difference of principle that I think no one has wanted, but it has been a longstanding and very difficult matter," Columbia University President Lee Bollinger said in an interview last year. "If it were resolved with the elimination of 'don't ask, don't tell,' there would be an enormous feeling of gratitude and openness, more openness to the relations with the military."
Bollinger, who also sits on the board of The Washington Post Co., did warn, however, that allowing ROTC recruiters back on campus might take some time. "It would have to go through a process and people would have to discuss it. It's not just a matter where the president can order this to happen," he said.
Obama signed legislation ending the 17-year gay ban in December, formally beginning a process that requires the Pentagon to train commanders, military chaplains and the 2.2 million troops about the change in policy before certification by the president, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen.
Gates this month said the Pentagon was moving quickly, but warned, "There's just a certain element of physics" associated with training so many active-duty and reserve troops.
Obama's vow also brings the issue of gays in the military full circle: He pledged during last year's address to end the ban in 2010, and gay rights groups said Tuesday night's pronouncement is the culmination of a promise kept.
"Not only does repeal mean troops will be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve, but our nation will be stronger with the best and brightest able to serve in uniform," said Joe Solomonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, which aggressively lobbied for repeal.
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| January 25, 2011; 9:03 PM ET
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