BY Kerry Eleveld

March 29 2010 2:05 PM ET


hearings should be a protected forum for voicing dissent with your
leadership — in this case, Conway was directly at odds with Joint Chiefs
chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, who has given his full support to repeal.
And in fact, during last week’s press briefing on the new regulations for discharging service members, Mullen defended the right of the
service chiefs to provide their personal opinion in that context.

wasn’t my intent to get in the way of any chief’s specific view,” he
told reporters. “Obviously, they have responsibilities as well.”

at the same briefing, Mullen also made a pointed comment on speaking
out of turn in the military when he addressed a letter published in Stars and Stripes by Lt. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, who urged people who are
against repeal “to write your elected officials and chain of command and
express your views.”

Mullen clearly felt Mixon was out of line.
“All of us in uniform are obliged to certainly follow the direction of
leadership right up to the president,” he said. “And in the end, if
there is … policy direction that someone in uniform disagrees with …
the answer is not advocacy; it is in fact to vote with your feet.”

letter was a glimpse of what might be on the horizon from those who
oppose repeal and, in my opinion, Mullen was sending a signal that
random acts of dissent are not welcome although he stopped short of
asking for Mixon’s resignation.

But Conway is now branching out
beyond the hearings too, and the argument he is advancing publicly is in
fact much more subtle and insidious. Conway’s message: If gays are
allowed to participate equally and openly in the Marine Corps, well
then, that entirely disrupts our traditions and we will have to change
the standard way of doing things for everyone.

Repeal advocates
were quick to jump on Conway’s remarks. The Palm Center, a
California-based think tank, provided a statement from retired Marine general Carl Mundy, one of Conway's predecessors as Commandant of the
U.S. Marine Corps, who is actually opposed to openly gay service.

repeal is going to happen, Mundy said, “The last thing you even want to
think about is creating separate facilities or separate groups or
separate meeting places or having four kinds of showers — one of
straight women, lesbians, straight men, and gay men. That would be
absolutely disastrous in the armed forces. It would destroy any sense of
cohesion or teamwork or good order and discipline.”

But hovering
over the debate of Conway’s rationale are two overarching themes.

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