THE INTERIM STEP ON DADT…. About a month ago, when Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen told the Senate Armed Services Committee that it’s time for DADT to go, Gates hinted at an interim step, preceding a full repeal. Gates told senators that the Pentagon can enforce the status quo “in a fairer manner” until the repeal is complete, suggesting that the Pentagon will likely be disinclined to discharge servicemen and women who are “outed” by third parties or jilted partners.

In other words, if a serviceman or woman really doesn’t “tell,” then there’s no reason for him or her to be stripped of their uniform.

Today, the Pentagon chief will make the interim step official.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates will announce measures on Thursday to make it more difficult for the military to expel openly gay service members, an interim plan while the Pentagon examines repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, officials said.

Officials said the new steps would include a requirement that only a general or admiral could initiate action in cases where service members were suspected of violating the prohibition against openly gay service in the armed forces.

The guidelines would also raise the standard required for evidence to be presented in such cases, an effort to prevent “malicious outing” by a third party or jilted partner, officials said.

The Defense Department, the Washington Post added, is “moving ahead on the assumption that Congress will overturn the ban on gays serving openly, but whether that will happen remains uncertain.”

Marc Ambinder added, “Internally, the move sends a message to the general officer corps, within which there are notable doubters of the move to repeal it: don’t bother trying to stop this thing once it starts.”

To be sure, Gates’ announcement is not an adequate substitute for scrapping DADT altogether. But it’s not intended to be the final step; it’s supposed to be the first step. And between the new enforcement guidelines and the (eventual) repeal, a policy like this one will, as Ambinder noted, “help change the culture, which is one reason why Gates is proceeding.”

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.