NPR logo Marine Macho Makes Corps Resist Uncloseted Gays: Commandant


Marine Macho Makes Corps Resist Uncloseted Gays: Commandant

Gen. James Conway

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway. Alex Brandon/AP Photo hide caption

toggle caption Alex Brandon/AP Photo

Interesting discussion at the Pentagon Tuesday on "don't ask, don't tell" between Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway and reporters on the Pentagon beat.

Conway said the vast majority of Marines don't want to room with openly serving gays. (It's a position supported by a Military Times poll from earlier this year.)

He also said he doesn't know how the Marines will manage their housing situation if the law changes to allow gays to openly serve with no strings attached following completion of a survey of military members now being conducted.

But the corps will figure it out if the law changes, he promised.

Meanwhile, when he was asked why the Marines might be more resistant to gays and lesbians serving openly, Conway offered an interesting explanation sure to fuel inter-service rivalry. He said Marines recruit:

"... A certain type of young American, pretty macho guy or gal, that is willing to go fight and perhaps die for their country. That's about the only difference that I see between the other services."

Quickly realizing how that sounded, he immediately attempted to clean up that comment.

"I mean, they recruit from a great strain of young Americans as well.  They all come from the same areas and that type of thing."

Here's his exchange with reporters:

CONWAY: In terms of "don't ask, don't tell," you know, we will obey the law.  We're anxious to see what the survey indicates when it's made public towards the end of the year.

But I caution our Marines and our Marine leadership:  If the law changes we pride our corps in leading the services in many, many things, and we're going to have to lead in this too.

There will be a hundred issues out there that we have to solve, if the law changes, in terms of how we do business, and we cannot be seen as dragging our feet or some way delaying implementation. We've got a war to fight. We need to, if the law changes, implement and get on with it.

Okay.  Tom.

REPORTER: General, I wanted to pick up on "don't ask, don't tell." As you know, the Senate's going to pick it up next month as part of the authorization bill.  And you've told the Hill that you think the current policy works and that you would never ask Marines to room witha homosexual if we can avoid it.

You've been followed by other Marine generals — Jack Sheehan, Peter Pace, Carl Mundy — in opposing achange in the policy.

And also, if you look at the polls done by Military Times, the Marines seem to oppose any change in policy by a fairly significant margin.

And I want you to focus on:  What is it about the Marines that they — they oppose this change in policy, repealing "don't ask, don't tell?" You've been in the Corps for over forty years.  You get out there and talk to Marines. What is it that the Marines oppose about this — more so than the other services?

GEN. CONWAY:  Well, that's a tough question to answer, Tom, because I'm not as familiar with the other services as I am my own Corps.  So any comparison or contrast is difficult.

But we recruit a certain type of young American, pretty macho guy or gal, that is willing to go fight and perhaps die for their country.

That's about the only difference that I see between the other services.  I mean, they recruit from a great strain of young Americans as well.  They all come from the same areas and that type of thing.

So I can only think that, as we look at our mission, how we are forced to live in close proximity aboard ship, in the field for long periods of time and that type of thing, that the average Marine out there — and by the way, my own surveys indicate that it's not age dependent, it's not rank dependent, it's not where you're from; it's, as you highlight, pretty uniformly not endorsed as the ideal way ahead.

But I just think all those things have impact on the Marines. And we'd just assume not see it change.  But again, we will follow the law, whatever the law prescribes.

REPORTER: (So just ?) as far as living in tight quarters — is that the issue you hear mostly when you talk to Marines out in the field?

GEN. CONWAY:  Well, see, we — unlike the other services, we have consciously, for decades now, billeted by twos. So if the law changes, we start out with a problem in terms of how to address that. And I've spoken publicly some about that in the past.

You know, we'll deal with it.  I do not believe there's money out there to build another requirement for BEQs, to allow every Marine to have a room by his or herself.  So how we deal with the billeting problem is going to one of that myriad of issues that we'll have to face.

REPORTER: How would you deal with it?

GEN. CONWAY:  I don't know. I don't know.

We sometimes ask Marines, you know, what is — what is their preference.  And I can tell you that an overwhelming majority would like not to be roomed with a person who is openly homosexual.

Some do not object and perhaps — you know, perhaps a voluntary basis might be the best way to start, without violating anybody's sense of moral concern or perception on the part of their mates.  
I don't know.  We're not there yet.  And it's one of those hypotheticals at this point that we have to consider but we won't have to deal with until the law changes, if it does.



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