WASHINGTON, Nov. 30, 2010 — The risks associated with overturning law and policies to allow gays to serve openly in the military are low, if defense officials and military leaders allow the proper amount of time to train troops on the change.
That was the message today from the leaders of the Pentagon working group as they made public their findings in a nine-month study of the likely effect of repealing the so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law.
“The reality is that there already are gay men and women serving in today’s military and most servicemembers recognize this,” Defense Department General Counsel Jeh C. Johnson told reporters at a Pentagon news briefing announcing the report’s release.
In March, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates appointed Johnson and Army Gen. Carter F. Ham, commanding general of U.S. Army Europe, to lead the comprehensive review. The review team consisted of 49 military members and 19 civilians, and reached out to hundreds of thousands of servicemembers in what officials say was the largest assessment of military men and women’s feelings about any personnel issue ever.
“Based on all that we saw and heard, our assessment is that when coupled with the prompt implementation of the recommendations we offer, the risk of repeal to overall military effectiveness is low,” Ham said.
Repeal, in the short term, “likely would bring about some limited and isolated disruption to unit cohesion and retention,” Ham said. But, he added, “We do not believe this disruption will be widespread or long-lasting, and can be adequately addressed by the recommendations we offer.”
In the long term, Johnson said, “with a continued and sustained commitment to the core values of leadership, professionalism and respect for all, we are convinced that the U.S. military can adjust and accommodate this change just as it has with others in history.”
The review team heard from 115,052 servicemembers and 44,266 military spouses in response to its survey on the matter, and another 72,384 comments from servicemembers and their families who responded online regarding the issue, Ham said. They held 95 in-person forums with 24,000 servicemembers at 51 military installations, and held 140 smaller focus groups, they said.
They also contracted Rand Corp. to update its 1993 study on gays in the military and solicited feedback from veterans groups and organizations for and against repeal of the law, as well as many foreign allies who allow gay servicemembers to serve openly. In addition, they met with former servicemembers who are gay, including some discharged under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, they said.
Their findings showed “a widespread attitude among a solid majority of servicemembers that repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will not have a negative impact on their ability to conduct their mission,” Johnson and Ham wrote in the report. That response was especially true among those who have served with people they knew were gay.
Among the survey respondents, 69 percent said they believed they had worked with someone who is gay. Of those who knew they had worked with a gay person, 92 percent said their experience was very good, good, or neither good nor poor.
Among spouses, 74 percent said repeal would have no bearing on whether they wanted their spouse to stay in the military, compared to 12 percent who said they would want their spouse to leave sooner.
The group’s findings also showed, however, a significant minority of servicemembers who are concerned that repeal would jeopardize their cohesiveness or mission effectiveness. Those with negative views of repeal mostly serve in ground combat forces, Special Forces and the chaplain corps, they found.
In speaking to servicemembers about their concerns, Johnson said, most negative feelings were based on moral or religious beliefs, or on misperceptions and stereotypes of homosexuals.
“Repeatedly, we heard servicemembers express the view that “open” homosexuality would lead to widespread and overt displays of effeminacy among men, homosexual promiscuity, harassment, and unwelcome advances within units, invasions of personal privacy, and an overall erosion of standards of conduct, unit cohesion, and morality,” he said. Johnson and Ham said those concerns are contrary to their findings.
In speaking with current and former servicemembers who are gay, Johnson said, “We repeatedly heard a patriotic desire to serve and defend the nation, subject to the same rules as everyone else. From them, we heard expressed many of the same values that we heard over and over again from servicemembers at large – love of country, honor, respect, integrity, and service over self.
“We simply can’t square the reality of these people with the perceptions about ‘open’ service,” he said.
Servicemembers are not expected to change their personal religious views or moral beliefs about homosexuality, Johnson and Ham said, and codes of conduct do not need to be changed. Rather, servicemembers should be reminded that they will continue to be judged on their actions and behavior.
“Servicemembers are expected to treat all others with dignity and respect, consistent with the core values that already exist in each service,” Johnson said. “The key message is this: if repeal comes, gay and lesbian servicemembers must be treated like everyone else.”
Although many have voiced concern that changing the law would be disruptive during wartime, Johnson said the group’s findings suggest otherwise. “General Ham and I both are convinced our military can do this even in a time of war,” he said.
“We do not underestimate the challenges in implementing a change in this law,” Johnson added. “But neither do we underestimate the ability of our dedicated service men and women to adapt to such change and unite to defend the nation when called on to do so.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)