The legislation to repeal the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy would only go into effect when the president, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, and the defense secretary sign off on it. This morning, during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said it could be years until he'd support implementing repeal.

"My personal approach to this would be that until all the training has been completed that until all the service chiefs are comfortable that the risks to unit cohesion and combat effectiveness ... had been addressed to their satisfaction and to my satisfaction, I would not sign the certification," Gates said.

"So that could be four months or four years?" asked Senator Scott Brown (R, Mass.).

"That has been exactly why I have been careful not to talk about how long I think this will take to implement," Gates replied.

A number of the service chiefs--most recently the commandant of the Marine Corps--have expressed serious concerns about repealing the policy banning gays from serving openly in the military. Fully 67 percent of Marines in combat arms units say that repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" would have a negative impact on their unit's effectiveness, according to the Pentagon's new survey.

While Gates has taken these concerns into consideration and could hold up the implementation of repeal so long as he's defense secretary, he has indicated that he'll leave his post some time during 2011. Obama's next defense secretary, serving at the pleasure of the president as all cabinet secretaries do, may not take the concerns of the service chiefs into account as Gates says he would.

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