Politics

Polls show service members oppose gays in military as Gates and Mullen prepare to testify on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

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Gautham Nagesh
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      Gautham Nagesh

      Gautham Nagesh covers politics and the federal government for The Daily Caller. Prior to joining the DC he covered technology, oversight and procurement in the executive branch for Government Executive magazine and Nextgov.com. His writing has also been featured by The Atlantic, National Journal and the official web site of the Detroit Pistons. He attended Cornell University and hails from Jackson, Michigan.

      <em><a href="mailto:gn@dailycaller.com">E-mail Gautham</a> and <a href="http://twitter.com/gnagesh">follow him on Twitter</a></em>

On Tuesday Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Michael Mullen will appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee to discuss repealing the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy and changing the law that prevents gay people from serving openly in the military. But polls show a majority of service members are still against allowing gays to serve openly.

Originally passed in 1993 under President Clinton, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has been the target of much criticism; in his State of the Union on Wednesday President Obama repeated his campaign promise to work with Congress to repeal it. But there remains a strong resistance to allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military and critics contend the law will drastically hamper the services’ ability to recruit and retain soldiers as America is fighting two wars.

On one point both sides seem to be in agreement: Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is bad policy. Some argue the rule is discriminatory and forces military members to lie about their sexuality in order to serve. Others say homosexuals have no business in the military, period. They argue that allowing homosexuals into the bunker would negatively affect military preparedness, often citing this passage from the 1993 law:

Military life is fundamentally different from civilian life in that the extraordinary responsibilities of the armed forces, the unique conditions of military service and the critical role of unit cohesion, require that the military community, while subject to civilian control, exist as a specialized society; and the military society is characterized by its own laws, rules, customs and traditions, including numerous restrictions on personal behavior, that would not be acceptable in civilian society.

The specialized nature of the military and the importance of unit cohesion are the most cited reasons for why many current and former service members, including every member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1993, have stated that homosexuality is simply not compatible with military culture. Some officers argue that allowing gays to serve openly could lead to the breakdown of the all-volunteer force.

There is evidence that allowing gays to serve openly would have a negative impact on recruitment and retention; Nathaniel Frank, senior research fellow at the Palm Center and author of “Unfriendly Fire” a book on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, said the last time the military cooperated with researchers to allow internal polling in 1993 they found strong opposition among soldiers to allowing gays  into the military.

“Polls have consistently shown resistance to letting gays serve,” Frank said. “But that resistance has dropped precipitously over the past 17 years. The news is the trend towards tolerance.”

However a Military Times poll in December 2008 found that 58 percent of U.S. troops do not want gays to serve openly in the armed forces. Ten percent of respondents said they would leave the armed forces if the ban were lifted and 14 percent said they would consider doing so.

Polls of soldiers in the United Kingdom similarly found that as many as two-thirds of soldiers said they would consider leaving the service if gays were allowed in, but the British military reported that very few soldiers actually chose to depart when the ban was lifted in 2000. There was significant resistance among senior officers, while younger personnel tended to be more open to allowing gays to serve.

Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, a non-profit think tank that specializes in military family issues, said her organization opposes Don’t Ask Don’t Tell but supports a full ban on homosexuals in the military. She expressed confidence that the ban would not be lifted and referred derisively to the Military Readiness Enhancement Act introduced by Rep. Patrick Murphy, Pennsylvania Democrat, which would allow homosexuals to serve openly, as the “LGBT Act”.

“It will not be repealed, even Barney Frank says they don’t have the votes,” Donnelly told The Daily Caller on Friday. “What I’m concerned about is them taking incremental steps to repeal the law and doing so in a way that would invalidate it, such as stopping enforcement.” Donnelly said not enforcing the ban on gays in the military would constitute Obama and Gates breaking their oaths of office.

Donnelly said she opposes allow homosexuals to serve in the military primarily because it would negatively affect unit cohesion, which she defined as “the mutual trust necessary to survive in battle.” Additionally, she said the”forced intimacy” of the living conditions for military personnel would result in a hostile working environment for soldiers and several new forms of sexual misconduct.

Frank said he spent 10 years studying the issue and agreed that the most common rationale given for the ban on gay service members is that they would undercut morale and reduce unit cohesion. But he pointed out that discharges plummet during times of war and that gays have served in the military for generations, though not openly.

“This is not based on research, it’s based on the independent judgment of the military,” Frank said, adding that the Pentagon has acknowledged that if such research were conducted, the findings would likely favor lifting the ban. “We have research for 50 years showing that this is not a problem. I think the best thing I can say about this is I talked to people of good faith and they had genuine fears the sky would fall.”

“Frankly I think proponents of repeal will be put on the spot,” Donnelly said, predicting that Tuesday’s hearing will expose the potential difficulties in adopting Rep. Murphy’s proposed law. “There’s no way you can impose this ideology on the military without serious negative consequences.”

She referred to Mullen and Gates as honorable men but said both have their own motivations to toe the Obama Administration’s line on the issue.

“Admiral Mullen is a proponent of diversity, perhaps higher than military effectiveness. That standard alone puts him on the wrong side. Gates is a political appointee and will reflect the president’s politically skewed point of view. They will have to show how this will affect military readiness.”