Speaking to reporters this afternoon, Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos — who has opposed repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell — suggested that if Congress lifts the ban against open service and allows gays to serve without hiding their sexual orientation, the Marines could be so distracted that they would die in the line of duty:
The chief of the US Marine Corps said Tuesday that ending a ban on openly gay troops in the military could jeopardize the lives of Marines in combat by undermining closely knit units.
General James Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps and an opponent of lifting the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” prohibition, cited a Pentagon study saying Marines fighting in Afghanistan were worried that permitting gays to serve openly could disrupt “unit cohesion.”
“When your life hangs on a line, on the intuitive behavior of the young man… who sits to your right and your left, you don’t want anything distracting you,” Amos told reporters at the Pentagon.
“I don’t want to lose any Marines to distraction. I don’t want to have any Marines that I’m visiting at Bethesda (hospital) with no legs,” he said.
He added that “mistakes and inattention or distractions cost Marines’ lives. That’s the currency of this fight.”
His comments were the toughest yet on the issue, after he testified at a congressional hearing that he opposed lifting the ban at a time of war.
Amos said Marines fighting in Afghanistan sent a “very strong message” in the Pentagon’s recent study, expressing opposition to the repealing the ban in an survey.
“I have to listen to that,” he said.
The Pentagon’s survey did reveal that Marines are most opposed to repealing the measure, but nowhere did it suggest that the distraction of gay servicemembers would have the effect of killing their straight counterparts. What it found was that 47.2% of Marines said a repeal of DADT would have a negative impact and were more likely to say their morale would be negatively affected by repeal than other Service members. Ninety-two percent of servicemembers also said they were fine with working with their gay colleagues, including 84% in Marine combat arms units. The Wonk Room argues that Amos should not be worried about the “distraction” of gay servicemembers. The real distraction is a policy which denies gay Marines the right to confide in their straight comrades as they’re dealing with the difficulties of deployment.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs today refused to condemn Amos’ comments.