WASHINGTON (Reuters) - After years of worrying what might happen if openly gay troops were allowed in the military, the Pentagon said on Thursday there had been no impact on morale, readiness or unit cohesion in the eight months since the ban on homosexuals was lifted.
President Barack Obama, who on Wednesday became the first U.S. president to publicly support gay marriage, helped champion the end of the U.S. military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. He is counting the ban's repeal last September as a fulfillment of one of his campaign promises.
The 1993 policy allowed gays and lesbians to serve in the military only if their sexual orientation was kept a secret. Many senior members of the military publicly warned against repealing the ban in wartime, saying it could hurt cohesion of troops or undermine morale.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, however, said a report he received on Wednesday showed there had been no negative fallout - something he credited to the military's gradual preparation for repeal, which included sensitivity training.
"It's not impacting on morale. It's not impacting on unit cohesion. It is not impacting on readiness," Panetta said.
Army General Martin Dempsey, who as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the top U.S. military officer, said: "I have not found any negative effect on good order or discipline."
Asked what many top brass had been afraid of, Dempsey said: "What were we afraid of is we didn't know.
"And I think that the way we were given a year to make this assessment to educate ourselves to collaborate, to build the sense of trust ... I think it worked out well," he said.
Under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, more than 14,500 U.S. service members were thrown out of the military since it went into effect in 1993, according to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. (See graphic r.reuters.com/vaj83s)
Gay rights groups for years denounced the law and called its end a important milestone in the fight against anti-homosexual discrimination. Some have compared its demise to the integration of the U.S. armed forces.
(Reporting By Phil Stewart)