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Pentagon sees few problems from allowing gays in military

WASHINGTON -- A Pentagon study released Tuesday predicted there would be little negative long-term effect from repealing a 17-year-old law prohibiting homosexuals from serving openly in the armed forces, though there could be "limited and isolate...

WASHINGTON -- A Pentagon study released Tuesday predicted there would be little negative long-term effect from repealing a 17-year-old law prohibiting homosexuals from serving openly in the armed forces, though there could be "limited and isolated disruption" in some units.

While the report may strengthen those in Congress seeking to overturn the statute, with only a few weeks left in this year's postelection congressional session prospects for repeal of the law this year remain uncertain.

The study, which was released Tuesday, concludes that a repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" ban might cause some disruption at first but would not create widespread or long-lasting problems as long as the military trains its personnel and takes other steps to smooth the integration of homosexuals.

"We are convinced the U.S. military can make this change, even during this time of war," the Defense Department report concluded, noting that 70 percent of tens of thousands of military personnel and family members surveyed predicted there would be "positive, mixed or no effect" from allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly.

Republicans, led by Sen. John McCain of Arizona, have mostly opposed overturning the law, claiming that Obama's call for an end to the ban is politically driven and could harm military readiness while the country is at war.


In a statement issued Tuesday, McCain's spokeswoman said he was "carefully reviewing the Pentagon's report regarding the repeal of the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Law." But as recently as Sunday he was critical of the study's approach.

How much effort the White House is willing to put in to a Senate vote on repeal this year remains uncertain. When President Barack Obama talked to reporters after his meeting with congressional leaders Tuesday, he did not mention the military policy. But the White House later issued a statement calling for congressional action on repeal.

"Today I call on the Senate to act as soon as possible so I can sign this repeal into law this year and ensure that Americans who are willing to risk their lives for their country are treated fairly and equally," Obama said. .

Opposition in Congress is likely to focus on splits among the senior civilian and uniformed military about whether to overturn the law, especially during wartime. The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold hearings Thursday and Friday when the Pentagon's top leaders are scheduled to testify.

Most Democrats support the repeal and one Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, already voted in favor in committee proceedings. Even McCain said in an interview in 2006 that he would seriously consider dropping the ban if the military leadership advocated a change.

Lawmakers who favor that current law are likely to seize on data in the study, which was completed by more than 115,000 troops and 44,200 military spouses, that showed that military personnel in combat units, especially those in the Marines and Army, have greater concerns about serving with homosexuals than other military branches.

At least 40 percent of combat troops raised some concerns. Among Marines, the smallest of the services and the most conservative, the number rose to 58 percent.

But the study's authors, Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson and Army Gen. Carter Ham, told reporters that such worries were exaggerated and based on stereotypes about homosexuals. Their report quoted one special forces soldier as saying "We have a gay guy. He's big, he's mean and he kills lots of bad guys. No one cared that he was gay."


They noted that most of those who had direct contact with a service member believed to be gay or lesbian encountered few problems. Almost all of them said their units were able to work together and only eight percent said the units functioned poorly as a result.

Under the 1993 law, the Pentagon is required to remove service members found to be gay or admitting to being so. More than 14,000 service members have been discharged for those reasons.

At a news conference Tuesday, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, called on Congress to act quickly on repeal and warned that failure to act soon would increase the chances the current ban would be overturned in the courts, which they said would be the worst possible outcome.

Gates said that the military needs time to prepare for such a far-reaching change, even though he said he didn't envision adjustments to housing or other personnel policies. He said a court ruling could give the Pentagon little time to prepare, and he issued an implicit warning to those in Congress who oppose repeal.

"Given the present circumstances, those that choose not to act legislatively are rolling the dice that this policy will not be abruptly overturned by the courts," Gates told reporters.

But Gates also acknowledged that the chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines are more worried than he is that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly could harm combat readiness at a time when there are nearly 100,000 troops in Afghanistan and tens of thousands in Iraq.

Gates said it would be "unwise" if Congress does repeal the law, to immediately lift the restrictions on gays serving in the armed services. Gates said the Pentagon would not need time to prepare and train its personnel, especially those in combat units.

Under the legislation currently under consideration in the Senate, the repeal of the law would not take effect until Obama and senior Pentagon leaders certified that it could be done without harming military readiness.


"I believe that it would be unwise to push ahead with full implementation before more can be done to prepare the force -- in particular, those in ground combat specialties and units -- for what could be a disruptive and disorienting change," Gates said.

He declined to say how long he thought it would take to reach that point. Johnson, the Pentagon general counsel, said he anticipated the transition phase would be "not fast" but "not drawn out or protracted, either."

In general, the Pentagon would not have to rewrite its regulations on housing, benefits or fraternization, the study said, though it called for some changes.

The report recommended against creating separate bathrooms and living facilities for homosexual service members, arguing that to do so would create a "logistical nightmare" and would stigmatize homosexuals. The study called for a rule prohibiting assigning of living space "based on sexual orientation."

Distributed by McClatchy Tribune Information Services

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