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Pentagon issues guidelines for repealing gay policy

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - New Pentagon rules allowing gays to serve openly in the U.S. military prohibit separate bathroom facilities based on sexual orientation and say not all benefits will be extended to same-sex dependents.

The Pentagon issued new guidelines on Friday as a first step to ending the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that forces gays to keep their preferences secret in order to serve in the military.

Congress repealed the policy last month but gave the military an unspecified amount of time to prepare the sweeping change. President Barack Obama said in his State of the Union address this week the change would be enforced this year.

The new guidelines ask the military top brass for precise plans within a week to implement the policy.

It says that while some benefits such as choosing the beneficiaries of life insurance and death gratuities are a matter of individual preference of service personnel, federal laws such as the Defense of Marriage Act mean certain benefits that go to married couples will not apply to same-sex partnerships.

"Strong, engaged and informed leadership will be required at every level to implement the repeal of (Don't Ask, Don't Tell) properly, effectively, and in a deliberate and careful manner," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in the guidelines.

"This is not, however, a change that should be done incrementally," he said.

The memo sets out principles to mold the new policy, focusing on respect and eliminating any discrimination that might be based directly on sexual orientation.

Despite the congressional repeal, there has been push-back from leadership in the military and Gates himself has stressed that change will take a while.

"It is therefore important that our men and women in uniform understand that while today's historic vote means that this policy will change, the implementation and certification process will take an additional period of time," Gates said after the policy was repealed last month.

Marine Corps Commandant James Amos had said that implementing the change could cost lives because of the impact on discipline and unit cohesiveness.

More than 13,500 people have been discharged from the military under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy since 1993.

Even after the repeal of the policy by Congress, gay rights groups have kept pressing legal challenges because they fear the Pentagon will be slow to implement the new policy.

(Reporting by Wendell Marsh; Editing by Greg McCune)

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