Reid: Suspend DADT Discharges Now

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With a legislative repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell all but assured in the Senate today, Majority Leader Harry Reid is calling on the Pentagon to immediately end the policy of discharging openly gay servicemembers.

At a press conference following the successful cloture vote on DADT repeal that will lead to a final vote on repeal this afternoon, Reid offered a simple “yes” when a reporter asked if he thinks the Pentagon should end all DADT-related investigations and discharges right away.

Earlier in the press conference, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis — who leads a group of lawyers who defend soldiers caught up by DADT — explained the necessity of ending the activities surrounding DADT before the policy itself comes to a formal end. That process will likely take weeks if not months — even after President Obama signs the bill passed by the Senate today (and passed by the House Tuesday.)

[TPM SLIDESHOW: It’s Over: Senate Repeals Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell]“I need to put my lawyer’s hat on for a moment — especially for our clients who are listening” Sarvis said. “Repeal is not yet final.”

A statement from the SLDN posted to the group’s website today put the message even more starkly.

“Rapidly changing events regarding the legal status of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) may be confusing for service members and recruits,” the statement reads. “The bottom line is DADT is still in effect and it is NOT safe to come out.”

In an interview with TPM following the vote, Sarvis said that his group will now turn its attention to pressuring the Pentagon to insitute the repeal of DADT as soon as possible. In the past, Defense Secretary Robert Gates — an advocate of repeal — has said that the military needs time to wind down the policy, claiming that an immediate repeal would have “enormous consequences.”

But Sarvis — and now Reid — say it’s time to at least end the policy of investigating and discharging suspected gays and lesbians in the military, even while the Pentagon works out how to allow them to serve openly following today’s votes.

“During this limbo, interim period, I respectfully call on Secretary Gates to use his existing authority to suspend all investigations and all discharges until the law is [officially] repealed,” he said.

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