|Seems like ancient history: from Obamaâs website right after he took office, pledging he would overturn Donât Ask Donât Tell. Is it finally about to happen?
But The Few, The Proud, The Bigoted Still Say No
The Pentagonâs long-awaited report on gays serving openly in the military has firmly concluded that repealing the 17-year-old âDonât ask/ Donât Tellâ law would present only a low risk to the armed forcesâ ability to carry out their mission, and that 70% of service members believe it would have little or no effect on their units, according to sources briefed on the reportâs findings.
The over 360 page report is based largely on survey responses from 115,000 members serving in the military. It concludes that âthe risk of repeal of âDonât Ask, Donât Tellâ to overall military effectiveness is low.â
This extensive Pentagon report about the armed forcesâ attitudes toward gays in the military gives a boost to the stalled Senate and needed push by President Barack Obama, who wants the Senate to follow the House in voting for repeal. The results of this survey thoroughly undercut any arguments by Republicans and others that such a change would unduly strain or harm the armed forces.
After nine months of study and unprecedented polling of the nationâs troops, the Pentagon concluded on Nov. 30 that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly posed just a âlow riskâ of disruption and the majority of troops were comfortable with the concept, feeling there would be little to no effect on their carrying out their duties.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates stated, âThis can be done, and should be done, without posing a serious risk to military readiness,â urging the Senate to pass legislation during lame duck session before it adjourns this month and when a new GOP-heavy Congress will hold more power when seated in January.
Senate Democrats are suddenly pushing to move fast, and have scheduled hearings starting as early as Dec. 2.
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has promised to hold a vote on DA/DT this month, saying on Nov. 30, âThe report is common sense. Itâs no surprise to me, and itâs no surprise to the American people.â
Ten moderate senators of both parties are waiting to read the report before making any decision. Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) (R-Maine), Richard Lugar (R.-Ind.), and (R-Ind.) and Lisa Murkowski (R.-Alaska) (R-Alaska) have said they will vote to end the ban after Democrats permit a fair debate.
Senator Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) has said repealing âdoesnât have to be done during the lame-duck session.â Obama also asked the Senate to vote soon, so he âcan sign this repeal into law this year and ensure that Americans who are willing to risk their lives for their country are treated fairly and equally.â
On Dec. 2, the Senate Armed Services Committee will question Gates; Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and the reportâs co-authors, Army General Carter Ham and Pentagon counsel Jeh Johnson.
The next day, the committee will ask the chiefs of staff of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, as well as the commandants of the Coast Guard and Marine Corps, to express their personal views - which do not necessarily match up with the Obama administrationâs position. The panelâs ranking Republican, Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) is the main critic of even debating to repeal DA/DT. Lately he has made no comment on the report, although a while before he was unsatisfied.
Aubrey Sarvis, Army veteran and executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a group pushing for repeal, stated, âThis report is going to be perhaps the most effective lobbying tool that repeal advocates will have over the next two weeks in the Senate.â He added, âWe recognize that there will be some initial resistance from some of the chiefs, but at the end of the day, they have all said that if Congress acts, they will salute and implement this change.â
Gates told reporters, âWe spend a lot of time in the military talking about integrity and honor and values. One of the things that is most important to me is personal integrity, and a policy or a law that in effect requires people to lie gives me a problem.â
âThe president would be watching very closely to ensure that we donât dawdle or slow roll this,â Gates said. He said his âgreatest fearâ is that federal courts might intervene and overturn the law immediately, forcing the Pentagon to adapt overnight.
âWhile ending the ban would probably bring about limited and isolated disruption to unit cohesion and retention, we do not believe this disruption will be widespread or long-lasting,â stated the report. The survey found that 69% of those who filled it out stated they had served with someone in their unit who they thought was gay or lesbian. 92% wrote their unitâs ability to work together was very good, good, or neither good nor poor.
Combat units reported similar responses, with 89% of Army combat units and 84% of Marine combat units saying they had good or neutral experiences working with gays and lesbians.
The report found that 30% overall - with between 40% and 60% of the Marine Corps - either expressed concern or predicted a negative reaction if Congress were to repeal DA/DT.
About 28% of the 400,000 active-duty and reserve troops who received copies of the survey responded, the report stated with a margin of error of plus or minus 1 percentage point.
If the bill clears the Senate during lame-duck session, it still has to be reconsidered by the House of Representatives, which passed a similar version back in May. Representative Howard âBuckâ McKeon of California, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said on Nov. 30 that he also wants his panel to hear from top military leaders. Opponents of repeal argue they should not vote during lame-duck session this month.
It is likely that there will be some useful information in the report,â said Elaine Donnelly, executive director of the Center for Military Readiness, a group opposed to repeal. Her group and other social conservatives plan to analyze the report and assign it letter grades based on factual accuracy, whether it fairly included the viewpoints of concerned troops and how Johnson and Ham reached their conclusions. Despite the reportâs release, Congress should wait until next year to consider the issue, Donnelly said. âSufficient time is needed to consider the importance of the current law and the consequences of repeal legislation.â
The survey found resistance to repealing strongest among the Marines, according to The Washington Post. This attitude is apparently shared by their top leader, Commandant General James Amos, who has said that the government should not lift the ban in wartime. The Corps is the youngest, smallest, and arguably the most tight-knit of the enlisted forces, with many of its roughly 200,000 members hailing from small towns and rural areas in the South. Marines are unabashed, the article stated, about distinguishing themselves from the rest of the military, with a warrior ethos and a religious zeal for their branch of service that they liken to a brotherhood.
âThis issue has been studied for fifty years, including by the military itself; the results from over 22 studies are uniform: openly gay service does not harm readiness,â Human Rights Campaign stated. âThe relevant question is not whether some troops donât feel like serving with open gays, but whether doing so harms readiness, and the research shows it does not.â
âAs of this afternoon, there is absolutely no excuse to delay the repeal of âDonât Ask/ Donât Tell.â Now itâs time to act,â said openly gay Eric Alva, retired Marine staff sergeant. He was the first American wounded in Iraq. He lost his leg and almost lost his life. When he returned home, he came out and spoke out against a policy that forced him to hide who he was. âThe Department of Defense has released its landmark study, nine months in the making. It came to the same conclusion as numerous expertsâ reports and 25 other countries. They all agree on one simple, inescapable truth: lesbians and gays should serve openly in the U.S. military.â He continued, âMy fellow troops have spoken. Generals have spoken. Think tanks have spoken. The American people have spoken. From this point forward, any delay is nothing more than discrimination and partisan politics. It needs to end. The Senate is holding critical hearings this week and wonât be in session long â so we must act now!â
Even Lady Gaga, pop singer and equality activist, asked by gay rights groups to lend her star power to the cause, gave her opinion on Nov. 29. âWeâve known for many years that an overwhelming majority of Americans are ready to repeal,â she said, urging senators to vote quickly on repealing DA/DT.