Though President Obama signed a law last year to repeal the Act, it will come into effect only after the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify that the repeal will not affect the country's military readiness. There will be also a 60-day waiting period before the repeal comes into full force. This means that people who are openly gay or bisexual will be legally eligible for entry into the US military by September.
Under the Don't ask, don't tell (DADT) policy, servicemen who were gay or bisexual, but were not open about it, were allowed to serve in the armed forces. But people who are openly gay, lesbian or bisexual would be prohibited from joining the armed forces.
The policy also provided clauses which ensured homosexual servicemen were not discriminated against. The policy says the presence of homosexuals in the military would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability.
'Don't ask, don't tell' means that no member of the armed forces, who is bisexual or homosexual, could disclose their sexual propensity, nor could they speak about any homosexual relationships they have. Under the Act anyone who violates this norm will be liable for expulsion, except in rare cases where it is justified.
The guiding principles of the Act could be traced back to the days of the Revolutionary War. In those days sodomy was legitimate ground for the expulsion of an armed forces member.
In the initial decades of the last century, people found to be homosexuals were court-martialed and dishonorably discharged. During the Second World War, it was deemed that homosexual inclination was a sign of possible psychopathology. It was only towards the end of the '50s that homosexuality was seen less of a security risk for members of the military. But even then the general principle was that strict guidelines were to be followed to avoid recruiting people with homosexual leanings.
A Navy study known as the Crittenden Report said in 1957 that homosexuals may not pose a security risk. But the report championed strict anti-homosexual policies.
With the emergence of the pro-gay movement of the 1970s, there was intense pressure on the military to end the discrimination against homosexuals. However, in 1982, the Department of Defense announced a policy which categorically stated that homosexuality was incompatible with military service.
The right of homosexuals to serve in the military became a political issue in the early 90s, and the pro-gay movement got a fillip when Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton advocated the repeal of the anti-gay military policy.
The 'Don't ask, don’t tell' policy of 1993 was the result of efforts to find a middle ground between repealing the anti-gay policy and continuing the status-quo. Originally, the full name of the policy was Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue. Later on Don’t Harass provision was added to the policy.