USA — Leaders Can Pave Way for Openly Gay Troops, General Says

WASHINGTON, Nov. 30, 2010 — A change in the law that bans gay men and les­bians from serv­ing open­ly in the mil­i­tary can be imple­ment­ed with­out irrepara­ble harm, the co-chair of a Pen­ta­gon work­ing group that stud­ied the mat­ter said yes­ter­day.
“It’s my belief, hav­ing now looked this mat­ter exten­sive­ly over nine months, that the lead­ers of our ser­vices — all ser­vices, all com­po­nents — are so good today, so expe­ri­enced today, that they can effec­tive­ly imple­ment this change, main­tain unit cohe­sion, and a strong focus on mis­sion accom­plish­ment,” Army Gen. Carter F. Ham, com­mand­ing gen­er­al of U.S. Army Europe, said.

Ham and Jeh C. John­son, the Defense Department’s gen­er­al coun­sel and the work­ing group’s oth­er co-chair, dis­cussed their find­ings in an inter­view with the Pen­ta­gon Chan­nel and Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice.

Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates appoint­ed Ham and John­son ear­ly this year to lead the group to deter­mine the effects on the mil­i­tary if the law is changed to allow gays to serve open­ly. Ham and John­son made their find­ings pub­lic today, as well as their report, which assess­es the mat­ter and gives rec­om­men­da­tions for mov­ing for­ward.

A major­i­ty — about 55 per­cent — of respon­dents to a sur­vey sent to 400,000 ser­vice­mem­bers in the active and reserve com­po­nents said allow­ing gays to serve open­ly would have either no effect or a bal­ance of pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive effects on the mil­i­tary, and between 15 and 20 per­cent said such a change would have only pos­i­tive effects.

About 30 per­cent of respon­dents said over­turn­ing the law would have a most­ly neg­a­tive impact, and those respon­dents most­ly were part of the warfight­ing spe­cial­ties, Ham said.

Results showed slight trends in dif­fer­ences among mem­bers of each ser­vice, Ham said, adding that he was sur­prised the feed­back showed few trends among age groups.

The issue has come under increas­ing scruti­ny as a law­suit chal­leng­ing the 17-year-old law worked its way through the fed­er­al courts this year, and is sched­uled to be heard by a fed­er­al appeals court in the spring. Con­gress has before it a bill that would repeal the law, but it is unclear yet whether they will vote on it before the ses­sion ends Dec. 30 and a new Con­gress takes over in Jan­u­ary.

Mean­while, Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma, Gates, and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have said they sup­port con­gres­sion­al repeal of the law. One focus of the debate is whether allow­ing gays to serve open­ly would be detri­men­tal to mil­i­tary cohe­sion.

“Any time a pol­i­cy change of this order is con­sid­ered, we know there are inher­ent risks,” Ham said. “In my view, the great­est risk comes if repeal is ordered and we imper­fect­ly apply the changes that are need­ed.”

Those risks must receive spe­cial scruti­ny in a for­ward-deployed area, Ham said, but strong lead­er­ship can mit­i­gate risks. “Lead­er­ship is so key in the imple­men­ta­tion phase,” he said.

Ham and John­son rec­om­mend­ed changes they believe the ser­vices should start mak­ing or think­ing about mak­ing if the law is over­turned.

“For those of us in uni­form, we should take this time we have now to think about repeal, and be pre­pared for repeal should it come,” Ham said. The gen­er­al cau­tioned, how­ev­er, that all mil­i­tary mem­bers must uphold the law that is in place.

“A key point for all us in uni­form to remem­ber as we think about Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is that the cur­rent law is in effect, and all us in uni­form have sworn an oath to uphold the law,” he said.

If the law is over­turned, they said, the ser­vices will need to increase costs in train­ing and edu­ca­tion, but should not incur the high cost of cre­at­ing sep­a­rate facil­i­ties, as has been dis­cussed.

“We strong­ly rec­om­mend against estab­lish­ing sep­a­rate facil­i­ties,” Ham said. “We think that is the wrong direc­tion for the Depart­ment of Defense.”

The biggest impact for tran­si­tion­ing the mil­i­tary to accept­ing open­ly gay ser­vice­mem­bers, they said, will be in the area of ben­e­fits.

“We rec­om­mend the ser­vices close­ly ana­lyze the costs of extend­ing cer­tain ben­e­fits once the sec­re­tary of defense and Con­gress make deci­sions about which, if any, of the ben­e­fits pro­pos­als we make are adopt­ed,” Ham said.

Ben­e­fits for same-sex part­ners of ser­vice­mem­bers “is an issue we spent a lot of time on,” John­son said. “It’s a com­plex issue. In and of itself, it could absorb a work­ing group for months.”

The ser­vices should look at three cat­e­gories of ben­e­fits, John­son said. Some that are “mem­ber des­ig­nat­ed,” such as life insur­ance, already can be giv­en to a same-sex part­ner or any­one the ser­vice­mem­ber choos­es, he said. The ser­vices should con­sid­er whether oth­er ben­e­fits can be reclas­si­fied as “mem­ber des­ig­nat­ed,” he said.

Some ben­e­fits can­not be extend­ed to same-sex part­ners because of the fed­er­al Defense of Mar­riage Act, which trumps all state laws, John­son not­ed.

John­son said Con­gress should change the Uni­form Code of Mil­i­tary Jus­tice to remove lan­guage for­bid­ding con­sen­su­al sodomy. The change should be made regard­less of whether the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law is over­turned to put the UCMJ in agree­ment with a sev­en-year-old Supreme Court deci­sion, he said.

The report fur­ther rec­om­mends that all ser­vice­mem­bers who were dis­charged under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell should be per­mit­ted to re-enlist. “The fact that they were sep­a­rat­ed pur­suant to this law should be set aside as irrel­e­vant,” John­son said.

Under the cur­rent leg­is­la­tion before Con­gress, repeal would become effec­tive only after the pres­i­dent, sec­re­tary of defense and chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff cer­ti­fy in writ­ing that new Defense Depart­ment reg­u­la­tions and poli­cies are con­sis­tent with unit cohe­sion, reten­tion and recruit­ment, John­son said.

“If they pass the leg­is­la­tion, we imme­di­ate­ly go into this time where we cre­ate new poli­cies and reg­u­la­tions, then deliv­er it to Con­gress,” he said. There is no lim­it on how much time the admin­is­tra­tion can take in deliv­er­ing its plans. If Con­gress approves them, it would take 60 days to offi­cial­ly remove Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, he said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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