WASHINGTON, Dec. 2, 2010 — Congress must act soon to repeal the so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law to ensure a systematic and orderly implementation of gays being permitted to serve openly in the military, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said this morning.
In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gates and Mullen said now is the time to repeal the law.
“I believe this is a matter of some urgency because, as we have seen this past year, the judicial branch is becoming involved in this issue, and it is only a matter of time before the federal courts are drawn once more into the fray,” Gates said.
“Should this happen,” he continued, “there is the very real possibility that this change would be imposed immediately by judicial fiat -– by far the most disruptive and damaging scenario I can imagine, and the one most hazardous to military morale, readiness and battlefield performance.” Mullen also expressed concerns about judicial handling of the matter.
“I worry that unpredictable actions in the court could strike down the law at any time, precluding the orderly implementation plan we believe is necessary to mitigate risk,” Mullen said.
“I also have no expectation that challenges to our national security are going to diminish in the near future, such that a more convenient time will appear,” he added. “War does not stifle change; it demands it.”
The House of Representatives passed legislation in May that calls for the president, defense secretary and Joint Chiefs chairman to certify that the military can handle repeal without affecting combat effectiveness before a repeal takes effect. On Nov. 30, Pentagon officials released the report of a working group that reviewed issues associated with a potential repeal of the law.
Gates said the working group reached out to the force to better understand their views. Outreach included a survey sent to hundreds of thousands of troops and their families. “A strong majority of those who answered the survey –- more than two thirds –- do not object to gays and lesbians serving openly in uniform,” Gates said. “The findings suggest that for large segments of the military -– with the exception of some combat specialties -– the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, though potentially disruptive in the short term, would not be the wrenching, traumatic change that many have feared and predicted.”
The working group’s plan, with a strong emphasis on education, training and leader development, offers a road map for implementing the repeal that will be successful if the military has enough time to prepare for the policy change, the secretary added.
Mullen said the experience of other militaries that allow gays to serve openly is a good indication that the end of the U.S. ban will pass with less turbulence than some predict. “Our study looked at 35 other militaries that chose to permit open service, including those of our staunchest allies,” he said. “In no instance was there widespread panic or mass resignations or wholesale disregard for discipline and restraint.”
Many of those troops from other nations “fight alongside us in Afghanistan today and they fought with us in Iraq,” Mullen said.
“Gay or straight, their troops patrolled with ours and bled with ours,” he said. “They have certainly shared with ours the fear and loneliness and the horror of combat. I don’t recall a single instance where the fact that one of them might be openly gay ever led to poor performance on the field of battle.”
Gates said that in advance of the potential repeal, the Defense Department already has made several changes to regulations that within existing law “applied more exacting standards to procedures investigating or separating troops for suspected homosexual conduct.” The changes, he added, “have added a measure of common sense and decency to a legally and morally fraught process.”
Mullen — who said he believes personally and professionally that repealing the law is the right thing to do — said the repeal would be the only change the military services would experience as a result.
“Nothing will change about our standards of conduct,” the chairman said. “Nothing will change about the dignity and the fairness and the equality with which we treat our people. And nothing will change about the manner in which we deal with those who cannot abide by these standards.” For some, Mullen told the senators, the debate on the issue is all about gray areas.
“There is no gray area here,” he said. “We treat each other with respect, or we find another place to work. Period.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)