Defense Secretary Robert Gates today urged the Senate to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell before the end of the year, saying a Pentagon review showed repeal won’t damage troop readiness. He warned that those who vote against repeal are “rolling the dice,” risking the courts overturning the policy by “judicial fiat” — a move that would, he said, hurt the military.
The review, ordered by Gates, found that most troops don’t care if they serve alongside homosexual colleagues. Some 70 percent of troops overall said repealing the law would have positive, mixed or no effects. And a whopping 92 percent, according to the AP, of troops who’ve worked with a gay service member said the experience was either good or neutral.
Gates said today the review found that more than two thirds of troops do not object to serving alongside gay men and women. He said that although repeal is “potentially disruptive in the short term,” it is not the “wrenching, traumatic change” that some had predicted.
“This is a policy change that we can make,” Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen said, adding that that is his professional as well as his personal opinion.
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Unit cohesion and readiness, Gates said, would not be threatened by repeal. He did warn that certain units — namely all-male, elite combat units — had predicted by higher percentages a “negative effect” on cohesion. While the numbers are concerning, especially to the chiefs of each branch, Gates said they are not “insurmountable.” The answer to that sort of resistance, he said, is training and leadership.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which allows gay men and women to serve in the military only if they keep their sexuality a secret, was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993. President Obama has been vowing to repeal the law and allow gays to serve openly since he took office, even as his administration defends lawsuits meant to overturn the policy.
The review included a survey of 400,000 troops, as well as town hall-style meetings and online drop-boxes to gauge servicemembers’ opinions. A 66-member team, lead by Gen. Carter Ham and General Counsel Jeh C. Johnson, also met with dozens of groups over the past several months, including gay veterans and military spouses.
A provision that would repeal the policy is included in the National Defense Authorization Act, the must-pass bill that funds the military. It has already passed in the House, but an attempt to bring the same bill to the floor in the Senate failed this September. Republicans said they voted against cloture at the time because Majority Leader Harry Reid wouldn’t allow any amendments on the massive spending bill.
Reid is expected to allow votes on amendments this time around, including one from Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) which would strip the repeal language from the bill.
Although McCain once said he would support repeal if top military brass supported it, he has changed his tune this year and become the leading opponent of repeal. It is unlikely the favorable DADT review will convince him to support it; McCain has told reporters that the review wasn’t done right. Other Republicans, including the likely chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, have also questioned the review’s methods.
The Senate Armed Services Committee, on which McCain is ranking member, has scheduled a hearing for this Thursday and Friday. Gates and Mullen, as well as the co-chairs of the review and the chiefs of staff of each branch are expected to testify.
Repeal advocates see the spending bill as their best hope, and there’s little time to pass it before the end of the year. If they fail to pass an authorization bill with repeal, the slate will be wiped clean and the bill will have to be approved by a Republican House.
Groups including the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and the Log Cabin Republicans are lobbying for the passage of the bill, focusing largely on getting a few Republicans to vote yes.
Log Cabin also has a lawsuit challenging DADT winding its way through the courts, and SLDN says it plans to file a lawsuit next week on behalf of several servicemembers who want to be reinstated.
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