Last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates — after 1,260 days in office in which more than 2,000 people have been discharged under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) — belatedly issued more lenient guidelines for enforcing the policy that prohibits gays and lesbians from openly serving in the military. The new rules represent the first significant step by the administration in addressing the policy, but they’re not necessarily an indication of how committed the military is to repealing DADT. In fact, some military leaders, including Gates, continue to insist that Congress should not change the policy or impose a moratorium on discharges before the Pentagon completes its year-long review. Others, like Marine Commandant James Conway and General Benjamin Mixon are publicly opposing repeal.
On Tuesday, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey — who testified last month that a moratorium would complicate the Pentagon’s study — said that “any resistance must be understood and addressed in order for a potential repeal to be effectively implemented,” suggesting that the military would slow-walk the process. “You get a sense that, at least within the Army, a little better than half the force is probably opposed to the repeal right now, given what they know,” Casey told CQ in an interview:
In his most extensive comments yet on the issue of gays in the military, the Army chief said the opposition to allowing gays to serve openly runs deep and needs to be approached carefully. He said he fears a repeal could even result in some midcareer personnel — the service’s backbone — retiring prematurely. But he also allowed that education and leadership can help allay fear and uncertainty about a possible change.
“What I worry about is you’ve got a force that’s already been stretched and been at war for eight-and-a-half years,” he said. “The young company commanders and midlevel non-commissioned officers — the ones who would have to implement this policy — when I talk to them, they’re kind of in the mode of, ‘My God, what else do you want us to do right now?’ Those are the folks that are frankly the ones that are most at risk. If the midlevel and non-commissioned officers start walking, they’re the ones that take a decade to grow. I don’t want to overdo that, but that’s a possibility.”
But Casey’s concerns of mass resignations are unsubstantiated. “Studies done by and for the Pentagon for the past 50 years and the experiences of our closest allies, like the British, Canadians, and the Israelis, demonstrate that allowing openly gay people to serve will not undermine unit cohesion or military readiness” or lead to mass resignations. Moreover, the personal opinions of military members — who already serve alongside gay and lesbian soldiers — should not determine the policy. As Rep. Susan Davis’ (D-CA) explained, we have previously desegregated the armed forces despite the military’s opposition to integration and allowed women in without regard to military or public opinion. “It’s not usual for us to go to the military and to have necessarily them believe that their personal feelings are going to determine the policy that moves forward,” she said. They should be surveyed, but they should not be determinative.
If anything almost all of the polls show that a growing number of servicemembers have no problem serving with openly gay or lesbian troops:
- 73% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans say it is “personally acceptable to them if gay and lesbian people were allowed to serve openly in the military.” [The Vet Voice Foundation, 3/2010]
- 51% of active-duty troops oppose allowing gay men and women to serve openly in the military, down from nearly two-thirds 65% in 2004. [Military Times, 2/2010]
- 73% of military members are comfortable with lesbians and gays. [Zogby Poll, 12/2006]
As CAP’s Larry Korb argues in the Huffington Post, Gates “must speed up the work of the high-level group that is examining the administrative and legal changes that must be made when DADT is repealed and drop his opposition to Congress replacing DADT until the Pentagon completes its year-long review. There is no plausible reason that it needs to take a year to make the changes necessary to implement DADT or why it is necessary to complete the review before repealing the law.” “Gates and Mullen must push back not only on statements like those made by Mixon and Conway, but those of commanders like General David Petraeus, who said he was withholding judgment on whether to drop the ban until he sees the impact on recruitment and retention. That day is past,” Korb writes.
Fortunately, some military officials seem to have already adopted this line of thinking. Army Secretary John McHugh said today that he’s interpreting Gates’ new guidelines as a de facto moratorium on third-party discharges and promised not to take action against members who have have told him they are gay.