U.S.: Military's Anti-Gay Policy May Be in Final Days

  • by Matthew O. Berger (washington)
  • Inter Press Service

The 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy would need to be repealed by the U.S. Congress. Opponents, including President Barack Obama and leading Democratic senators, hope that it is voted on in the Senate by the end of the current 'lame-duck' session of Congress, which ends when legislators elected earlier this month take office in January. The House of Representatives has already voted to repeal.

Many Senate Republicans have said they were waiting for the Defence Department's report to make a decision on which way they would vote, though it is not yet clear whether the military's recommendations will be enough to sway those policymakers.

Obama promised to seek the repeal of the policy as a presidential candidate in 2008, but he and Congress have so far been unable to deliver. This has frustrated gay advocates, including Dan Choi, a former lieutenant with the New York National Guard who was discharged after announcing his homosexuality on a nationally televised news show.

Choi has since become an outspoken advocate for the gay community, including the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. As one of 59 Arabic linguists to be discharged from the military for being openly gay, he knows the potential negative impact the policy has had on the military.

But proponents of the policy have raised concerns that repealing it would be even worse, leading to an erosion of 'unit cohesion' and greater difficulty in recruiting soldiers.

For the most part, the actual soldiers disagree. As part of the Defence Department study released Tuesday, a survey of active-duty and reserve troops found that 70 percent of them believed repealing the policy would have positive, no or mixed effect. And 92 percent of troops who had served with someone suspected of being homosexual characterised their unit's ability to work together as good, very good or neither good nor poor.

Still, the 30 percent of troops that foresee a negative impact from repealing the policy is not insignificant, especially since that number goes up to 46 percent in the case of the Marines.

As far as U.S. Secretary of Defence Robert Gates is concerned, though, these reservations 'do not present an insurmountable barrier to the successful repeal of Don’t Ask, Don't Tell.'

This repeal, he said Tuesday in announcing the report's findings, 'can and should be done without presenting an undue risk.'

He and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, urged Congress to act quickly to repeal the law, partly because, according to Gates, repealing it through legislation would be much easier for the military to handle than repealing it through the courts.

A battle in U.S. courts has played out in recent months in which the law was deemed unconstitutional, its repeal was put on hold, and a request to suspend the law while it is being looked at in court was denied.

Gates says this process of sudden reform through the courts makes it very difficult for the military to handle the changes necessary, including establishing new training and education procedures as well as administrative changes.

Tuesday, he said he strongly urges the Senate to pass legislation repealing the law by end of year, and said the federal courts cases made it 'a matter of urgency'.

He also noted that views toward gays and lesbians in the United States in general have changed considerably since Don’t Ask, Don't Tell was first enacted under President Bill Clinton in 1993. The policy was originally thought of as a compromise that would allow gays to serve in the military and prevent the military from investigating the sexuality of troops.

Over the past decade and a half, however, the issue of gay rights has gained in prominence and it no longer seems acceptable to the majority of U.S. residents to discharge members of the military for their sexual preferences.

A survey from the Pew Research Centre released Monday found that 58 percent of U.S. respondents support allowing gays to serve openly in the military and a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll earlier in November found that number to be 72 percent.

As Gates pointed out, though, support varies between different demographic groups, especially in terms of age. This has led some to compare the effort to allow gays to serve openly to the decision to integrate white and non- white military units in 1948.

In an April interview with IPS, Choi, a Korean-American, compared the discrimination he faces as a gay man with that which his parents faced. Coming out to his parents, he said, 'was difficult, but I think deep down in their hearts it was just because they didn't want me to face the kind of discrimination they did.'

'They've gone through discrimination because of their language barriers, because of their immigration status, because of their race, and they didn't want the next generation to go through the same kind of pain,' he said. 'I explained to them that I don't want people in future generations to have to lie to get into the military, I don't want them to have to be unequal.'

© Inter Press Service (2010) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service