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Pentagon Sees Little Risk from Openly-Gay Military Service

  • Michael Bowman

A Pentagon study reports that a substantial majority of U.S. troops say lifting the ban on openly-homosexual military service members would have little or no impact on America's ability to defend itself and conduct warfare. The results of the study, which were to be released next month, have been leaked to The Washington Post newspaper.

Enacted in 1993, the law known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" allows homosexuals to serve in the U.S. armed forces as long as their sexuality remains secret. The policy has led to the discharge of 14,000 U.S. military members.

Earlier this year, President Barack Obama announced his intention to end the ban on openly-gay military service personnel, and ordered the Pentagon to study the effect of doing so and how best to implement the change.

The report is to be presented to the president on December 1. But sources who have read draft copies of the document tell The Washington Post that more than 70 percent of U.S. troops believe that ending "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" would produce positive or mixed results, or have no impact at all.

Former Army intelligence specialist and Arabic linguist Alex Nicholson was discharged under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in 2002. He says he is heartened, but not surprised, by the study's findings.

"Those results comport with what we [repeal advocates] have been arguing all along - that in the modern military, we have a professional force that is certainly capable of handing a policy change like this," said Nicholson.

Nicholson heads Servicemembers United, a group advocating the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

"We are not only pleased with the results coming out as we expected they would, but the fact that they are starting to leak out early so that they could actually be of some use in the legislative process," he said.

The U.S. House of Representatives has voted to end the ban on openly-gay military service. But last month, Senate Democrats were unable to overcome a Republican procedural maneuver that blocked consideration of a defense bill that included repeal.

Arizona Republican Senator John McCain says he opposed any move to end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" until the Pentagon study is complete. He also objected to the formulation of the study, saying it was designed to inform U.S. leadership on how best to repeal the policy - not to examine whether the policy should be changed in the first place.

"This study assumes repeal of the law - an incredible act of disingenuous behavior," said McCain.

The study appears to have given service members the opportunity to express concerns or opposition they might have to a change in policy. About 400,000 troops and 150,000 military spouses took part in the survey.

The future of the repeal effort is unclear. The Senate may or may not keep the repeal provision in the defense bill, and that bill may or may not be voted on in a brief end-of-year congressional session. The Democrats' Senate majority will be greatly reduced in January as a result of this month's midterm elections, making it more difficult to overcome Republican opposition.

A legal challenge to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" continues in the federal court system. Last month, a judge ruled that the law is unconstitutional. The case is before an appellate court, and could eventually reach the Supreme Court of the United States, unless the law is changed.

Public opinion surveys show that a majority of Americans favor ending the ban.