The US military’s top officer on Thursday said American troops are “ready” for the repeal of a ban on gays serving openly, arguing the armed forces would be stronger as a result.
Admiral Mike Mullen and US Defense Secretary Robert Gates urged senators to scrap the ban before the end of the year, saying a Pentagon study out this week showed that the change would cause no major problems for the military, even at a time of war.
“I believe that in the long run, repeal of this law makes us a stronger military and improves readiness. It will make us more representative of the country we serve,” Mullen told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Mullen said the Pentagon study confirmed his belief that the military could carry out the change without disruption and that attitudes in the military have evolved since the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law was adopted in 1993.
“I believe our troops and their families are ready for this. Most of them already believe they serve or have served alongside gays and lesbians,” he said.
The law, labeled discriminatory in recent federal court rulings and opposed by a majority of Americans, requires gay and lesbian troops to keep their sexual orientation quiet or face discharge from the military.
Republican senators said ending the ban posed risks to a military already under strain from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, pointing to results of the Pentagon study that showed 40 to 60 percent of troops in combat units feared the change would have a negative effect.
“I am concerned about the impact of a rush to repeal when even this survey has found that such a significant number of our service members feel that it would negatively impact military effectiveness,” Senator John McCain said.
Mullen and Gates, however, rejected the idea that the change should be postponed in wartime.
“If not now, when?” said Gates, saying he did not expect global threats to recede for the United States any time soon.
Mullen said more than nine years of war since the attacks of September 11, 2001 meant the military was more flexible and more accepting of change.
“War does not stifle change; it demands it. It does not make change harder; it facilitates it,” the admiral said.
The Pentagon report released Tuesday found that a “solid majority” of troops expressed no objection to the change proposed by President Barack Obama, though members of mostly-male combat units had more concerns.
Obama and his allies in Congress want action on the issue during a year-end “lame duck” session, before the Democrats’ majority dwindles in the Senate and Republicans take over as the majority in the House of Representatives in January.
The legislation needs 60 votes in the Senate to overcome any parliamentary delaying tactics, and Democrats are counting on gaining a handful of Republican votes needed to proceed.
Mullen, an outspoken advocate for scrapping the ban, said the law contradicted the military’s principles of honor and integrity by forcing gay service members to lie about who they are.
“Our people sacrifice a lot for their country, including their lives. None of them should have to sacrifice their integrity as well,” he said.
Unlike Mullen, the head of the Marine Corps and chiefs of other armed services have argued against ending the ban or voiced concern about making the change in wartime.
Republican supporters of the ban have seized on the views of the service chiefs, who were due to testify before the same committee on Friday.