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Pentagon: No Harm Ending DADT

Pentagon: No Harm Ending DADT

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Allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the U.S. armed forces will not undermine military readiness, a Pentagon study on "don't ask, don't tell" has found, confirming details of the report leaked to the media earlier this month.

Among the key findings in the report:

-70% of service members who responded to the survey believe that ending the 17-year-old policy will have little or no effect on unit cohesion.

-74% of military spouses said DADT repeal will not affect their husband's or wife's ability to serve.

-69% of service members said they had served with someone who was gay or lesbian. Of those who had, 92% said the unit cohesion was either "very good," "good," or "neither good nor poor."

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, appearing at a Tuesday afternoon briefing with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, called the report "one of the most expansive studies ever done on military personnel issues," one that examines "not only the impact of repeal, but also how best to implement a new policy across the joint force."

Gates said he did not ultimately know how long it would take to phase out DADT, should Congress vote to repeal the 1993 law. But he did press lawmakers to do so in order to avoid an overturning of the law in federal court, which could, he said, jeopardize an orderly process for repeal. In a lawsuit brought by the Log Cabin Republicans, a federal judge in California struck down DADT as unconstitutional in September, though the Justice Department has appealed the decision.

"Those who choose not to act legislatively are rolling the dice," Gates said.

The release of the report, which included survey results from about 115,000 service members and 44,000 spouses, comes two days before the Senate Armed Services Committee holds hearings on repeal. Earlier this month Senate majority leader Harry Reid committed to a vote on DADT repeal by year's end (the House of Representatives passed a repeal measure in May).

Repeal advocates are still seeking to line up votes from senators key to passing a DADT repeal measure as part of the defense spending bill. Arizona senator John McCain, who has rejected the premise of the study and vows to block any change in DADT, remains a chief obstacle. "We need to look at whether it's the kind of study that we wanted," McCain said of the Pentagon report during a November 14 appearance on Meet the Press. "It isn't, in my view, because I wanted a study to determine the effects of the repeal on battle effectiveness and morale."

Gates responded to McCain's views in answer to a question from The Advocate at the Tuesday briefing. "I obviously have a lot of admiration and respect for Senator McCain, but in this respect, I think that he's mistaken," Gates said. "I think this report does provide a sound basis for making decisions on this law. People can read this and potentially come to different conclusions, but in terms of the data and in terms of the views of the force, it's hard for me to imagine that you could come up with a more comprehensive approach."

South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham has also recently voiced opposition to the Senate repeal effort, calling it "all politics" and lacking sufficient Republican support to pass during the lame-duck session.

Though criticized by some as an unnecessary step in changing military policy on openly gay service members, the study and its findings garnered praise from advocates Tuesday, including Servicemembers Legal Defense Network executive director Aubrey Sarvis, who in a conference call with reporters called the study "one of the best tools that repeal advocates can use in the senate lame-duck session." Sarvis said the report will serve as a "catalyst" to bring repeal legislation to the Senate floor.

"At the end of the day, I think this will not only be historic," Sarvis said of the study, "it will be very helpful in the next two or three weeks as we work for repeal."

The Pentagon's findings put the military roughly in line with public opinion. A new poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that 58% of Americans surveyed support open service for gays and lesbians, with only 27% in support of continuing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

More than 14,000 service members have been discharged under "don't ask, don't tell" since the law went into effect.

Julie Bolcer contributed reporting.

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