Ending the U.S. military’s ban on openly gay and lesbian service members would present a “low” risk to overall military effectiveness, according to a Pentagon study.
“While repeal will likely in the short-term bring about some limited and isolated disruption to unit cohesion and retention, we do not believe the disruption will be widespread and long-lasting,” said a 17-page summary of the study, which was led by Army General Carter Ham and Jeh Johnson, the Defense Department’s general counsel.
“We are convinced that the U.S. military can adjust and accommodate this change just as it has others in history,” said the summary, released yesterday.
President Barack Obama said the study shows the U.S. can end the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy “in a responsible manner that ensures our military strength and national security,” and called on the Senate to approve a repeal proposal that passed the U.S. House earlier this year.
A survey of service members that underpins the Pentagon report shows that 50 percent to 55 percent said repealing the policy would have a mixed effect or no effect at all, and 15 percent to 20 percent said it would have a positive impact.
Thirty percent of survey respondents overall said ending the ban would have a negative effect, an opinion shared by 40 percent to 60 percent of respondents from the Marine Corps and largely all-male combat units. That “higher level of discontent and discomfort” continues to be “a source of concern” to top military leaders, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said.
Risk is ‘Low’
The survey “consistently revealed a widespread attitude among a solid majority of service members that repeal will not have a negative impact on their ability to conduct their military missions,” the report summary said, concluding that “the risk of repeal to military effectiveness is low.”
The Pentagon report moves the fight to Capitol Hill, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he will seek a vote on repealing the ban during the current lame-duck session of Congress. “I hope that all of my colleagues will listen to our military leaders” who have “made a compelling case that repealing this policy will improve our military’s readiness,” Reid said in a statement.
Arizona Senator John McCain, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, is “currently in the process of carefully reviewing the Pentagon’s report,” spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan said in an e-mail.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said “it is my hope that this report encourages the Senate to move forward” with repeal.
Representative Joe Wilson, of South Carolina, the top Republican on the House’s military personnel subcommittee, said that “using the last days of a lame-duck Congress to hastily repeal ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ would be highly irresponsible.”
At a Pentagon news conference, Gates urged the Senate to approve the House measure, which gives the military services time to put together new rules and would end the policy only after Obama and military leaders certify that the change won’t hurt military effectiveness.
Gates said the report shows that repeal of the don’t ask, don’t tell rule wouldn’t be “the wrenching, traumatic change that many have feared and predicted.”
Step-by-step procedures to end the ban through legislation present a lower risk to military effectiveness than the possibility that a court may order an immediate end to the policy, Gates said. A federal trial judge in September declared the ban unconstitutional. The Supreme Court earlier this month allowed the law to remain in effect during appeals.
Obama pledged in his January 2010 State of the Union address to end the don’t ask, don’t tell policy.
Gates commissioned the review to gauge the challenges of implementing a personnel policy that lets gays and lesbians serve openly and to make recommendations to the Obama administration and Congress.
“For the first time, the chiefs and I have more than just anecdotal evidence and hearsay to inform the advice we give our civilian leaders,” Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen said in a statement.
“This is without question a complex social and cultural issue,” Mullen said. “But at the end of the day, whatever the decision of our elected leaders may be, we in uniform have an obligation to follow orders.”
The Senate Armed Services Committee has scheduled hearings on Dec. 2 and Dec. 3 to take testimony from Gates, Mullen, and the top officers of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.
Democratic leaders will have to win support from at least two Republicans to reach the 60 votes needed to bring the measure to the floor for final consideration. The House in May voted 234-194 to approve legislation that would repeal the policy.
The 1993 don’t ask, don’t tell compromise enacted under former President Bill Clinton in the fiscal 1994 defense bill allows gay men and lesbians to serve in the military only if they don’t reveal their sexual orientation and it isn’t otherwise disclosed.
The Pentagon study was based on a 103-question survey developed by a professional research company and sent to 400,000 active duty and reserve service-members. More than 115,000 responses were received, Gates wrote earlier to McCain.
The working group also surveyed 150,000 military spouses, receiving over 44,000 surveys and visited 50 military installations, Gates wrote.
In a poll released Nov. 29, 58 percent of U.S. adults favored letting gays and lesbians serve openly in the military, with 27 percent opposed, according to a Nov. 4-7 survey of 1,255 people by the Washington-based Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.
A spokesman for Outserve, an informal association of gay and lesbian service members, said the idea of gays openly serving in the military is no longer a matter of controversy for younger soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines.
Concerns about repeal will turn out to be overblown, like warnings about the so-called millennium bug software glitch that was supposed to shut down the world’s computers in 2000, said the spokesman, who asked not to be identified because he is still on active duty.
Outserve claims to have more than 1,200 active-duty service members in 27 chapters, including groups in Iraq and Afghanistan, and claims 110 chapters in Southern California and 80 in Germany, the spokesman said.
The report said that “in the course of our assessment, it became apparent to us that aside from the moral and religious objections to homosexuality, much of the concern about ‘open’ service is driven by misperceptions and stereotypes about what it would mean if service members were allowed to be open about their sexual orientations.”
The military discharged 259 men and 169 women last year under the law. As many as 66,000 gay men and women may be serving in the U.S. military, about 2.2 percent of all personnel, including 13,000 on active duty, according to a study by the Williams Institute of the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at Msilva34@bloomberg.net.