Repealing the military’s discriminatory anti-gay policies “would not be the wrenching, traumatic change that many have feared and predicted,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced Tuesday.
Gates was speaking at a press conference announcing the release of a long-term study on the impacts of allowing gays to serve openly in the military.
He urged Congress to act quickly because of a recent effort by a federal judge to overturn the law, which would force the military to implementation a repeal of the policy immediately.
“I am determined to see that, if the law is repealed, the changes are implemented in such a way as to minimize any negative impact on the morale, cohesion and effectiveness of combat units that are deployed, or about to deploy, to the front lines,” Gates said. “Given the present circumstances, those that choose not to act legislatively are rolling the dice that this policy will not be abruptly overturned by the courts.”
“What is called for is a careful and considered approach,” he added. “An approach that, to the extent possible, welcomes all who are qualified and capable of serving their country in uniform, but one that does not undermine – out of haste or dogmatism – those attributes that make the US military the finest fighting force in the world.”
The 267-page report concludes that “the risk of repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell to overall military effectiveness is low” but adds that the implementation of the repeal could “bring about some limited and isolated disruption to unit cohesion and retention.”
The disruption is not expected to be long lasting or widespread, according to the report, and could be ameliorated through increased training.
The report found that 70 percent of troops surveyed said having a gay member in their unit would have positive, mixed, or no effect on the unit’s ability to “work together to get the job done.”
The percentage of those who thought having a gay member in their unit would negatively impact the unit’s ability to work together was significantly higher in combat arms units. In Marine combat arms units, 58 percent said it would have a negative impact, compared to 43 percent in the Marine Corps.
“Any personnel policy change for which a group that size predicts negative consequences must be approached with caution,” the report notes. “However, there are a number of other factors that still lead us to conclude that the risk of repeal to overall military effectiveness is low.”
The report also found that 69% of troops surveyed believed they had worked in a unit with someone who was homosexual and 92% of those who believed they worked in a unit with someone who was homosexual rated the ability of unit to work together as very good, good, or neither good nor poor.
“Though there are fundamental differences between matters of race, gender, and sexual orientation, we believe the US military’s prior experiences with racial and gender integration are relevant,” the report states.
In the 1940s and 1950s, as the report notes, the US military successfully implemented racial integration in the midst of the Korean War and during a time when resistance to change was far more intense.
“Some of our best-known and most-revered military leaders from the World War II-era voiced opposition to the integration of blacks into the military, making strikingly similar predictions of the negative impact on unit cohesion,” the report says. “But by 1953, 95% of all African-American soldiers were serving in racially integrated units, while public buses in Montgomery, Alabama and other cities were still racially segregated.”
The report notes that a number of troops expressed concerns of having to share living and bathing facilities with openly gay members, but concludes that creating separate facilities would be “a logistical nightmare, expensive, and impossible to administer.”
“Most concerns we heard about showers and bathrooms were based on stereotype — that gay men and lesbians will behave as predators in these situations, or that permitting homosexual and heterosexual people of the same sex to shower together is tantamount to allowing men and women to shower together,” the report states.
The report rejects this stereotype, noting that homosexual and heterosexual people shower together in college dorms, college and high school gyms, professional sports locker rooms, police and fire stations, and athletic clubs across the US without problems.
The report was based on the responses from 115,052 active duty troops and the 44,266 spouses of active duty troops as well as information gathered from face-to-face “information exchange forums,” focus groups, foreign allies, veterans groups, and groups both for and against repeal of the current policy.
In addition, the report investigated the views of current and former members of the military who are not heterosexual.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says Obama believes Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell can be repealed in the lame-duck session of Congress.
The House has already passed legislation that would overturn the policy, but Republicans in the Senate have prevented the bill, which is part of a large defense bill, from passing.
This video is from CNN’s Newroom, broadcast Nov. 30, 2010.