Military leaders doubt repeal of limits on gays

WASHINGTON Tue Feb 23, 2010 3:20pm EST

Gay demonstrators and supporters hold a rainbow flag as one lays down on the sidewalk while they shout slogans during a protest at a U.S. Armed Forces Recruiting Station, in New York's Time's Square, March 15, 2007. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Gay demonstrators and supporters hold a rainbow flag as one lays down on the sidewalk while they shout slogans during a protest at a U.S. Armed Forces Recruiting Station, in New York's Time's Square, March 15, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Mike Segar

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Military brass raised doubts on Tuesday about lifting restrictions on homosexuals in the armed forces, weighing in on a debate in Congress over whether to back President Barack Obama's effort to let gays serve openly.

A key senator suggested a possible compromise: suspending discharges of gays from the military under the current policy, known as "don't ask, don't tell," for a while.

"That would mean that if for some reason it is not repealed, down the road, the current discharge policy would stay in place," Senator Carl Levin said.

Some polling says most Americans favor repealing the policy requiring gay service members to keep quiet about their homosexuality. But any change must be approved by Congress, and some lawmakers say they will be guided by the military brass.

Both Army General George Casey and Air Force General Norton Schwartz told lawmakers they were worried about the impact of such a change on a U.S. military under stress after years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Their caution contrasted with the views of the nation's top uniformed officer Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who made a strong appeal this month to allow gays to serve openly in the U.S. military.

Obama called for repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" last month. Defense Secretary Robert Gates then launched a review, which could take up to a year, of steps to be taken to fully integrate gay members.

"I do have serious concerns about the impact of repeal of the law on a force that's fully engaged in two wars and has been at war for eight-and-a-half years," Casey told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"We just don't know the impacts on readiness and military effectiveness," Casey said, adding that he would be better able to judge after he participates in Gates' review.

Schwartz expressed a similar opinion before the House Armed Services Committee. He said it was his "strong conviction" that "this is not the time to perturb the force that is at the moment stretched by demand in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Levin, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee and agrees with Obama that gays should be able to serve openly, said the best way forward might be a moratorium on the policy.

Both Casey and Army Secretary John McHugh told Levin they would not favor a moratorium on dismissals while the policy is under review, saying this could complicate pending cases.

But Levin pointed out that pending cases might already be complicated by Obama's call for change. He asked McHugh and Casey to consult Army lawyers and report back to the panel on what they thought the legal impact of a moratorium might be.

Such a moratorium might be added later this year to legislation authorizing defense programs for fiscal 2011, Levin told Reuters after the hearing.

Gay activists were frustrated that Obama did not move more quickly on his campaign promise to overturn the law. Americans favor letting gays serve openly by a margin of 56 percent to 37 percent, a poll by Quinnipiac University said last year.

But lawmakers who oppose the move say they worry it could hurt morale and discipline.

The current policy dates to 1993, when President Clinton sought to lift the ban on gays in the armed forces. That year, Congress struck a compromise allowing gays to serve only if they remained silent about their homosexuality.

It also prohibits military officials from initiating inquiries about sexual orientation as long as soldiers are abiding by the rules.

On another subject, Casey said he thought it was time to re-examine the policy that places restrictions on women in combat roles. "We don't have an active effort going on, but I think it's time," he said.

Women are still barred from traditional frontline combat roles in the U.S. military. But female soldiers often run the same risks as men in Iraq and Afghanistan, where bombings and other insurgent attacks can target any U.S. unit.

(Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa and Phil Stewart, Editing by Stacey Joyce)

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Comments (63)
Steverino wrote:
This is ironic. It is the homophobes who should want gays serving (especially with two wars) and the gays who logically should oppose serving.

For the homophobes – Who do you prefer to come home in a box or with a debilitating injury or missing a limb, limiting the ability to earn a living and to be an active father/mother – a married person with a spouse and children to support, or a man or woman who, by and large have no children; a person who so many of you have disgust for.

For Gays – Why would you want to risk your lives and limbs or risk another disabling disability in the service of a country which discriminates against you to the point of refusing to recognize your right to get married?

Feb 23, 2010 1:02pm EST  --  Report as abuse
RMK wrote:
I strikes me that the argument that we cannot repeal the bill becuase we do not know what effect it will have on morale etc is equivalent of saying we should have delayed integration of the school systems because we were unsure of what effect it would have on enrollment or student and teacher morale. The issue is that there is a segment of our society who is more than willing to contribute to its safety and welfare and yet is treated as second class citizens in the very society they fight to protect. I find the lack of moral fortitude and sense of fair treatment within the military structure such that it makes me wonder just what it is they are fighting to protect. Freedom for ALL? Equal treatment for all citizens? Or just those whom we are confortable to be around. SHAME~! SHAME! SHAME!

RMK

Feb 23, 2010 1:10pm EST  --  Report as abuse
andrewhorning wrote:
We also have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding mujahideen, rapists, wife beaters, etc.
So?

Feb 23, 2010 1:11pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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