Mullen Says Gays In Military Shouldn't Live A Lie

Congress is pushing to repeal the 17-year-old military policy of "don't ask, don't tell," which bars gays and lesbians from openly serving in the military. Michele Norris speaks with Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, about the potential repeal of the policy.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR NEWS. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

And we begin this hour with "dont ask, dont tell," the 1993 law that has forced thousand of gay and lesbian service members out of the military. Yesterday, the full House, as well as the Senate Armed Services Committee, voted to repeal the law. Admiral Mike Mullen is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and he supports the repeal. He said this to senators in February.

Admiral MIKE MULLEN (Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff): Speaking for myself and myself only, it's my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do.

NORRIS: Even if Congress does repeal "don't ask, don't tell," the change would not go into effect until 60 days after a much-anticipated report from the Pentagon. That report, due in December, gives troops and their families a chance to voice concern or support for the policy change.

Earlier today, I sat down with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs at the Pentagon. Even though the military's report is not yet finished, Admiral Mullen insists "don't ask, don't tell" is outdated.

Adm. MULLEN: I think it's time that the law and the policy change. And the fundamental piece for that - of that, for me, is the whole issue of integrity in asking young people to come in to a military and essentially live a lie in an institution that values integrity at the highest level.

I think we are also all in agreement that it's very important that we take the concerns of our men and women in uniform - and their families, who are actually participating in this review - into effect. And we're going do that, and we're able to do that even with - what the proposed legislation that I have seen.

The concerns they expressed is that moving a legislation 'til now has the potential for disregarding those views. And I would just reassure our people that we will make every effort to ensure that their views are incorporated into these changes as we move forward here.

NORRIS: Let me ask you about the review itself. At that point, you said that you will determine whether to certify the repeal if eventually passed by both the House and the Senate. What is it that you will be looking for that would make you decide whether or not to actually certify this? What would give you pause or make you think twice?

Adm. MULLEN: Well, I think it's really less whether than it is the fact to implement. And obviously, if the law changed, that certification will be based on, you know, when we would be ready to do that. And the top priority is going to be our readiness. Does it impact our readiness, our ability to do the mission?

The issues of unit cohesion - is it going to have any significant impacts on our recruiting or our retention? And conducting the kind of training and interaction with leadership throughout the military to say OK, we're going to do this, which is what this certification will do. And it is a certification as to readiness to do it as opposed to whether, whether or not we would do it.

I have a great deal of confidence in our force for lots of reasons. And I think at some point in time, we'll be ready to do it.

NORRIS: In the review, where you started to think about the fine details of what this repeal would mean, would people be able to have their spouses live on base with them - their partners live on base? If the partner was indeed a spouse, would they be allowed to do that?

Adm. MULLEN: I think one of the, I mean, clearly one of the very important parts of the review is to raise issues like that or other issues that have been raised on the civilian side, per se, and others - that's uniquely applied to the military and understand what those are. And I know they are being raised, but we're certainly - I couldn't give you a list of those right now. And I look, really, to General Ham and General Counsel Johnson to surface those and, in fact, then look at how we would create policies which would implement the ones that make sense.

NORRIS: As you well know, there are more than 1,100 retired generals who openly oppose the repeal of the ban. They've made their opinions known publicly. I'm wondering about the resistance within the military, particularly among non-commissioned officers. Have you been able to gauge that? Do you - you know, how much resistance is there...

Adm. MULLEN: Well...

NORRIS: ...in the service?

Adm. MULLEN: Well, that's really the purpose of the review, to really understand and get the facts from the ground. In my own engagements over the last several months, I have had - this issue has been discussed in several all-hands calls. And I certainly have seen - I've seen resistance, but I've also seen support.

However, it's also not in these calls the first issue that's raised. There are many other things that I see being brought up in my engagements with our troops. So, I'm honestly not sure how much of a burning issue it is with them. I really don't know that. And that's the whole idea of trying to go out over the course of this year and pull that information and data in, so that we understand that much better than we do.

There just isn't any objective data out there. There's no objective research out there with respect to our men and women, who are so spectacular in what they do, and yet they're the ones that this policy change will affect the most. And that's what we're trying to make sure we have.

NORRIS: You know, when you talk about research and data and surveys and polling, that's one thing. But you've also said that this is a matter of integrity. And there's something that is a little bit hard to understand - and I'll draw a parallel, if I can, to make the point.

If President Truman had relied on surveys or polls or data when deciding whether or not to integrate the military, it might not have happened, given the racial attitudes of the time. So if you're talking about an issue that is a matter of integrity, why rely on polls and data? Does that suggest that they might outweigh the moral compass in this issue?

Adm. MULLEN: The moral compass is very important to me; I've made that very clear. That said, I think for a change like this, we owe it to our people to understand, we make sure we - to make sure we understand their views. And that's what this is really all about, more than anything else.

NORRIS: You said at one point - actually, when you spoke before a Senate subcommittee, you planned to tell the subcommittee that allowing homosexuals to serve openly would be the right thing to do.

But when you actually spoke, you diverted from your written text and you actually used the words gays and lesbians, instead of the word homosexuals. Small thing, but I'm wondering why you decided to make that change.

Adm. MULLEN: Actually, it was just - it was a focus, sort of, almost in the moment, very specifically, because I thought it was important to recognize the gay and the lesbian community and be as inclusive as I could be, if you will, in that testimony.

There wasn't anything - the written statement wasn't intentional. I'd almost look back on it and say it was an oversight, and I should have used it there as well.

NORRIS: You've said that you've served with people who are homosexual. Are there individuals or stories that have shaped your view on this issue?

Adm. MULLEN: Well, I said that I have served since 1968 with individuals that many thought were gay or lesbian. And my experience is they were typically above-average sailors, above-average performers. And it was felt that way throughout the command, and known to be someone that really contributed to the overall mission and the readiness of the crew and of the ship.

NORRIS: Admiral Mike Mullen, thank you very much for your time.

Adm. MULLEN: Thanks, Michele. Yes.

NORRIS: That was Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaking with me today at the Pentagon.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.