As that study gets under way, officials were expected by mid-March to suggest ways to relax enforcement of the law. Of particular interest is minimizing cases of "third party outings," where a service member is kicked out after being reported by others to be gay.
The protracted time line is about more than giving military leaders time to assess the impact on troops and put new rules in place. The multiyear process also is a strategic way of getting troops used to the idea before they have to accept change.
Politically, the time line puts off congressional debate over lifting the ban until after elections this fall.