Survey: It's Time To Repeal 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The Pentagon has released the results of its survey on don't ask, don't tell. And turns out more than two-thirds of those in America's Armed Forces say they would not have a problem serving with openly gay troops. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said yesterday, that Congress should repeal the ban.
Secretary ROBERT GATES (Department of Defense): Now that we have completed this review, I strongly urge the Senate to pass this legislation and send it to the president for signature before the end of this year.
MONTAGNE: The defense secretary acknowledged change won't be easy, but said it's possible. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman reports.
TOM BOWMAN: The survey results, says Gates, mean it's time to scrap the law that's led to the dismissal of some 14,000 service members.
Secretary GATES: Repeal of don't ask, don't tell, though potentially disruptive in the short term, would not be the wrenching, traumatic change that many have feared and predicted.
BOWMAN: But allowing gays to serve openly could be wrenching or traumatic for those serving in what's known as combat arms, such as infantry or armor units. Fifty percent polled in those Army units, and 60 percent in those Marine units, oppose change.
Carl Mundy, who served as a Marine Corps' top general and opposes repealing don't ask, don't tell, said those numbers are troubling.
General CARL MUNDY (Commandant, U.S. Marine Corps, Retired): You have a significant percentage that have told you that it bothers them. And if it bothers them, then it ought to bother all of us. We ought all to be concerned.
BOWMAN: That's a concern, says Mundy, because some might not re-enlist.
Gen. MUNDY: These will be skilled and talented people that may decide to take a walk.
BOWMAN: Gates says the opposition within combat arms is also a concern for him and the military service chiefs, most of whom are reluctant to do away with don't ask, don't tell. But Gates noted that even among those infantry and armor units, there is some willingness to serve with gay troops.
According to the survey, a large percentage of them said they have had no problem working with someone they believed to be gay.
Sec. GATES: So part of this is a question of unfamiliarity. Part of it is stereotypes. And part of it is just sort of inherent resistance to change when you don't know what's on the other side.
BOWMAN: The report also found wide opposition among military chaplains. A large number, the report said, believe homosexuality is a sin or an abomination.
Sec. GATES: It also is clear that the chaplains are not going to be asked to teach something they don't believe in.
BOWMAN: Still, Gates said chaplains have an obligation to care for all.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, who has forcefully called for repeal of don't ask, don't tell, says moving ahead will not be easy, should Congress vote to overturn the law.
Admiral MIKE MULLEN (Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff): This is, without question, a complex social and cultural issue.
BOWMAN: Complex, Mullen said, but not one that the military can brush aside.
Adm. MULLEN: But at the end of the day, whatever the decision of our elected leaders may be, we in uniform have an obligation to follow orders.
BOWMAN: When those orders come is uncertain. The House has voted to overturn don't ask, don't tell, but the Senate is yet to act. And even if don't ask, don't tell is repealed, Secretary Gates says it's important to take time to prepare the military for openly gay members.
Sec. GATES: What we are asking for is the time subsequent to that to prepare adequately before the change is implemented in the force. How long that would take, frankly, I don't know.
BOWMAN: The question of how long worries gay rights advocates like Aubrey Sarvis of the Soldiers Legal Defense Network.
Mr. AUBREY SARVIS (Executive Director, Soldiers Legal Defense Network): By next spring, gays and lesbians should be serving openly, but worries me if this is going to become a protracted process.
BOWMAN: What worries Secretary Gates? Two things, really: First, if Congress doesn't repeal the ban, the courts may intervene and force the Pentagon to change before it's ready. His other worry: Integrity, that don't ask, don't tell is fundamentally flawed because it forces people to lie about themselves.
Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington.
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