WASHINGTON – Pending a Congressional decision on the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law, the Secretary of Defense implemented changes to current regulations last week to ensure a “fairer and more appropriate” enforcement of the law.

Effective immediately, law 10 U.S. § 654 will see changes in how military separation investigations are conducted and what kind of information can be used as “credible information” in homosexual conduct discharges.

“I am determined that we in the department carry out the president’s directive on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ in a professional and thorough way,” said Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, during a March 25 press conference.

For example, information given to lawyers, clergy, psychotherapists or medical professionals in confidence will not be used for the purposes of discharging military members.

The military also will be more cautious in examining facts before initiating an inquiry, taking into consideration that hearsay or falsified information could be presented by someone who wants to do the military member harm. For example, investigators will require accusations made by third parties to be given under oath and will ignore most anonymous complaints.

The new changes also raise the rank of officers who are authorized to initiate fact-finding inquiries or separation proceedings to generals or flag officers.

The revisions apply to all open and future cases, and all branches of the military must modify their regulations within 30 days.

Passed by Congress in 1993, the law allows homosexual service members to stay in the military as long as they hide their sexual orientation.

President Obama urged Congress to repeal the law in his Jan. 27 State of the Union address, and since then the possible effects of letting homosexuals serve freely in the military have been under examination.

Gates has asked the commander of U.S. Army Europe, Gen. Carter F. Ham, and the Pentagon’s chief legal counsel, Jeh C. Johnson, to issue recommendations by Dec. 1 on how to integrate openly gay military members into the armed forces. A working group will spend the next several months traveling to military installations to learn how military members might react to a potential repeal.

Gates said he didn’t recommend a change in the law before completing an internal study, and the Army’s chief of staff agreed.

“I do have serious concerns about the impact of the repeal of a law on a force that’s fully engaged in two wars and has been at war for eight and a half years … we just don’t know the impacts on readiness and military effectiveness,” said Gen. George W. Casey Jr., chief of staff of the U.S. Army during a Senate hearing.

Gates said that every case currently open will be re-evaluated under the new regulations.

However, the variations are not retroactive and do not apply to military members who have already been discharged. Department of Defense officials said they do not foresee any further changes to the law before Congress votes.

Last year 428 service members were discharged from the military under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law.