At a press availability en route to Melbourne, Australia, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told reporters that he would like Congress to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in the lame duck session but was “not sure what the prospects for that are”:
Q: (Laughs.) Yes, exactly, ours, [inaudible] one in Australia, too, but — yeah, U.S. election outcome. In the short run, do you see any prospect for passage of START [Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty] and repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the lame duck? And then going forward into the spring, do you think the election outcome makes it more or less likely that President Obama will decide to pull a significant number of forces from Afghanistan in the summer?
SECRETARY GATES: Well, first of all, I hope that the Congress will — that the Senate will ratify a new START. I think it’s in our interest. Both the chairman and I have testified why we think it’s in our security interest to ratify the treaty.
I would like to see the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but I’m not sure what the prospects for that are and we’ll just have to see.
The statements mark the first time Gates publicly endorsed efforts to end the policy before the new Republican House is sworn-in in January, something Pentagon spokesperson Geoff Morrell avoided during his press conference on Thursday. Morrell insisted that Gates wanted “a study to take place in advance of that repeal to educate us how to deal” with repeal. “You know from his discussion of this dating back to last February that [the Secretary] believes that it’s better to do this smart than stupid and that this report is very important to us doing this smartly,” Morell said.
Gates’ criticism of Congressional efforts to repeal the ban ahead of the Pentagon’s comprehensive review has slowed down the repeal process. Although he quietly endorsed the compromise repeal amendment incorporated into the defense authorization bill, in April, “Gates sent House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) a letter telling him that he doesn’t want Congress to take any action at all on DADT this year. “I believe in the strongest possible terms that the Department must, prior to any legislative action, be allowed the opportunity to conduct a thorough, objective, and systematic assessment of the impact of such a policy change,” the letter said. “Therefore, I strongly oppose any legislation that seeks to change this policy prior to the completion of this vital assessment process.” Similarly, after District Court Judge Virginia Phillips issued a short-lived moratorium against the policy, Gates criticized the ruling, warning of “enormous consequences” for the troops if repeal were conducted without “careful preparation, and a lot of training.” Congress may still have time to repeal the ban after the study is released on December 1, but it’s unclear that lawmakers will have time to take-up the question before the end of the session.
As for Australia, that country did not impose a ban against gays in the military until 1986 and repealed it just six years later. In 1992, responding to political pressure, the government “created a study group” to study the effects of the policy. “During the study period, those who opposed gay service made the familiar arguments: the presence of known gays and lesbians would compromise effectiveness by impairing cohesion and driving down morale. Nevertheless, the study group recommended in 1992 that the gay ban be replaced with a policy of nondiscrimination” and the government adopted the change over the objections of “the Defence Minister and the Service Chiefs.” In 1993, a GAO study found “Effects on unit cohesiveness have not yet been fully determined. However, early indications are that the new policy has had little or no adverse impact.” Three years later, a British study concluded that “despite an early outcry, homosexuality quickly became a non-issue: any challenges in integrating open gays were regarded as ‘just another legitimate management problem.’”
Servicemembers Legal Defense Network’s Aubrey Sarvis on Gates’ remarks:
We welcome Secretary Gates call for the senate to act on repeal in the lame duck session. Indeed, the senate should call up the defense bill reported out of committee and pass it before it goes home for the year. If the President, Majority leader Reid, Secretary Gates, and a handful of republican senators are committed to passing the comprehensive defense bill, there is ample time to do so. Any talk about a watered down defense bill, whereby the ‘Don’t Ask’ revisions would be stripped out, is unncceptable and offensive to the gay and lesbian service members who risk their lives everyday.