Republicans opposed to ending the U.S. military’s ban on gays and lesbians serving openly may seize on a Pentagon study’s finding that members of combat units and Marines were most likely to say it would have negative results.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen and the study’s leaders will testify today on the conclusions of their 10-month review. The Senate Armed Services Committee is holding two days of hearings.
A survey that underpinned the study found that while most military personnel said that repealing the ban would have either a positive effect, little effect or no impact at all, 40 percent to 60 percent of respondents from the Marine Corps and the largely all-male combat units said it would have negative repercussions.
“Given that Defense Department war-fighting units expressed significant concerns with the repeal of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy as the nation is engaged in two major combat operations, and that, with the current policy in place, morale and re-enlistments are at all-time highs, I remain concerned with the policy’s repeal,” said Senator Saxby Chambliss, a Georgia Republican and a member of the Armed Services panel.
President Barack Obama, who pledged during his campaign to repeal the ban, has called for the Senate to take up, before the end of the year, the repeal legislation that the U.S. House passed in May. When the next session of Congress begins in January, the Democratic Senate majority shrinks and the House reverts to Republican control.
Support from at least two Republicans is needed to reach the 60 votes required to bring the measure to the Senate floor for final consideration, possibly as soon as tomorrow.
“Democrats will say the reports are conclusive and definitive, and Republicans will say there are two holes -- the methodology and some of the numbers they think are not as supportive,” said Christopher Neff, a Washington lobbyist for the Palm Center, a policy institute based at the University of California at Santa Barbara. The center studies and advocates for allowing gays to serve openly in the military.
Arizona Senator John McCain, the top Republican on the Armed Services panel, led opposition to repeal in September, when the Senate defeated a pre-election bid to pass the legislation as part of a defense spending measure. He has cited opposition to repeal from the generals in charge of the Air Force, the Marine Corps and the Army.
McCain, a former Navy pilot, hasn’t commented on the Pentagon study since it was released Nov. 30.
“Senator McCain and his staff are currently in the process of carefully reviewing the Pentagon’s report,” said Brooke Buchanan, a spokeswoman.
The study panel concluded that ending the ban would present a “low risk” to military effectiveness that could be managed. The study was led by Army General Carter Ham and Jeh Johnson, the Defense Department’s general counsel, who also will testify today.
A Pentagon summary of the study predicted only “some limited and isolated disruption to unit cohesion and retention” but no “widespread and long-lasting” problems.
“We are convinced that the U.S. military can adjust and accommodate this change just as it has others in history,” said the summary, which also was released Nov. 30.
If the Senate can’t pass a bill that would lift the ban, Katherine Miller, a 21-year-old who resigned from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, in August, won’t be able to return there to graduate and be commissioned as an officer in the Army.
‘Forced to Lie’
“I’ve been forced to lie and create a hetero dating history,” Miller said in an interview. She said the trust among soldiers essential to survival in combat dissolved when she was forced to lie about the fact that she is gay. “It’s not that I want to talk about it; it’s that I have to actively portray myself as being something I’m not,” she said.
Miller, who was ranked near the top of her class at West Point, transferred to Yale University, in New Haven, Connecticut, where she is a junior. She said she would apply for readmission to West Point if the ban is lifted.