'Don't ask' to be gone by end of this year

WASHINGTON — The U.S. military will begin next month training its forces on how they should carry out the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" and expects the ban on gays serving openly in the military to be lifted entirely by the end of the year, Pentagon officials said Friday.

Each of the services will have completed development of a training program by the end of next week, and most members of the military will have participated in it by the time the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify that the military is ready for repeal, as the law requires, the Pentagon said.

"Moving along expeditiously is better than dragging it out," said Marine Gen. James Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters. "I think all the services believe that is the case."

Gay-rights advocates said they're pleased that the Pentagon appears to be moving quickly toward ending the ban, but they voiced concern about limitations the Pentagon foresees on group health and housing benefits for same-sex couples.

"This is an historic day for the Defense Department and a new day for gays in the military," said Aaron Belkin, the director of the Palm Center, an affiliate of the University of California, Santa Barbara, that studies gay issues.

Under the Pentagon's program, partners or spouses of gay service members won't be eligible for group health benefits and gay couples won't be entitled to base housing available to married heterosexual couples.

The Pentagon also said it wouldn't add sexual orientation to its equal opportunity policy, which forbids discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin.

But all legal proceedings and investigations aimed at discharging gay service members will end once the repeal takes effect, and recruiters will be prohibited from asking potential service members about their sexual orientation.