WASHINGTON (AP) -- Defense Secretary Robert Gates is going to make it tougher for service members to get fired for being gay by insisting that each case be scrutinized by more senior-ranking officers.
The plan, to be announced Thursday, is considered a stopgap measure by the Obama administration until Congress decides whether to repeal the 1993 law, which bans openly gay service.
Under the new guidelines, firings of enlisted personnel who violate the ban must be approved by officers who hold a rank equivalent to a one-star general or above. Testimony provided by third parties also should be given under oath, the plan says.
The details were described by U.S. military and defense officials who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity because no announcement had not been made.
The officials said the goal was to ensure that the existing law was applied fairly and consistently across the military. The plan also is aimed at eliminating flimsy testimony supplied by third parties.
Gates has said he wanted to find ways to implement the existing law more "humanely" and eliminate cases in which gay service members are outed by someone carrying a grudge.
In the meantime, Gates has ordered an internal assessment on how the Pentagon could lift the ban without damaging morale or hurting recruitment. That study is due Dec. 1.
Gay rights groups say the move is a step in the right direction but that Congress must still act to lift the ban.
"At the end of the day, service members would still be leaving the services under 'don't ask, don't tell' every day, so what we need is repeal," said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director, Servicemembers Legal Defense Fund.
President Barack Obama has said the ban unfairly punishes gays and has called on Congress to lift the ban. Gates agrees but says he wants to move slowly and has ordered the lengthy assessment to ensure a repeal of the ban won't negatively impact troops or their families.
Military officials, Republicans and even some conservative Democrats have been reluctant to embrace the change. They say they support Gates' review of the policy but that no changes should be made if they might hurt military effectiveness.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and other Democrats say the time has come to repeal the ban and have called for an immediate moratorium on dismissals.
Nathaniel Frank, a senior research fellow with the Palm Center, which supports a repeal of the ban, said it is unclear how much of an impact the new guidelines would have because regulations already restrict third-party allegations.
"Anything that continues to allow the discharge of service members for something that research shows has no bearing on military effectiveness will not go far enough," Frank said.
AP Broadcast Correspondent Sagar Meghani contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
For breaking news alerts, text KMOVNEWS to 21321
Have you seen the forecast for tomorrow?
Get the latest St. Louis weather forecast