A new survey from the University of Pennsylvania shows that 50% of junior enlisted service members say gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly in the military. The National Annenberg Election Survey reveals a significant increase since 1992, when two similar surveys found that only 16% of male service members held the same view.
The Annenberg poll follows a report last week from the Urban Institute, which estimates that 65,000 lesbian and gay Americans serve in the armed forces. "Despite the military's gay ban, service members have seen firsthand the contributions of lesbian and gay Americans," said Sharra E. Greer, director of law and policy for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an advocacy group for gay service personnel. "Heterosexual service members serve alongside lesbian and gay colleagues every day, and they are increasingly comfortable doing so."
According to the Annenberg survey, those who support allowing gays to serve openly do so because they believe sexual orientation is unrelated to job performance. Twenty-nine percent also believe
allowing gays to serve is an issue of equal rights. Even among those who opposed allowing gays to serve openly, however, the rationales often used for excluding gays were rejected. Only 16% of those opposed believed lesbian and gay service members were "bad for morale," while just 12% thought allowing gays to serve openly would be "bad for teamwork," two justifications frequently used by military leaders who have rejected the idea of allowing gays to serve openly.
"The old rationales used to justify the military's gay ban aren't even effective among those who support the Pentagon's overall position," said Aaron Belkin, director of the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military at the University of California, Santa Barbara. "Clearly, those serving on the front lines and in the trenches do not believe gays disrupt unit cohesion or troop morale."
The Annenberg poll also reflected other recent polls finding widespread public support for lifting the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Annenberg reports 67% support among civilians for allowing gays to serve openly. In 2003, Fox News reported 64% support, and the Gallup organization 79%. "There are few people who continue to defend the military's ban," said Greer. "The American people and, increasingly, our men and women in uniform realize the disservice 'don't ask, don't tell' exacts on our nation. Congress must also now recognize the contribution of lesbian and gay Americans and repeal the ban once and for all."