In the wake of a Senate Armed Service Committee hearing today on the “Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell” military policy that forces gay service members to remain closeted, Colorado Democratic Sen. Mark Udall pressed for more urgent action to effect a repeal.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen announced they would establish a working group that would conduct a year-long study on how exactly to repeal the law.
“I want the Pentagon to have the time it needs to study implementation and transition, but the process should not be a substitute for final action,” Udall was quoted in a release. “More than 400 service members were discharged from our Armed Services last year for no reason other than their sexual orientation. As we fight in two wars, it’s counter-productive – and frankly, dangerous and expensive – to discharge men and women who have critical skills we need to win those wars, just because they’re gay.”
The “Don’t ask don’t tell” policy was implemented in 1993 under former President Bill Clinton. The policy restricts openly homosexual individual from participating in the armed services but prohibits military inquiry and investigation in individuals sexual preference.
Although Udall was left unsatisfied, the testimony was fairly remarkable for its unequivocal commitment to ending the policy. As Spencer Ackerman reports at the Washington Independent, Gates expressed his “full support” for the President call in the State of the Union address to end the law this year. He announced to the Senate Armed Services Committee that he had asked Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson and Army Gen. Carter Ham to lead the panel studying the implications of repeal across a variety of military concerns: unit cohesion and discipline — the main concern that led Congress to embrace “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”; partner benefits; base housing; “fraternization and base conduct;” and others. In addition, Gates said he planned to ask the Rand Corporation, a leading defense think tank, to update its influential 90s-era study of the impact of gay service on unit cohesion.
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force responded to the Committee’s announcement with gratitude and disappointment:
“We thank Gates and Mullen for their strong statements today. We have called on the president to find a way for people to serve openly, and it appears he is trying, though we are not satisfied with the length of this timeline. We continue to call for the immediate halt to all discharges of service members because of their sexual orientation until Congress fulfills its responsibility to overturn this archaic, unjust law…
“The military has already had 16 years to think about this and other countries have been able to implement equality in the armed services. Let’s get moving. The livelihoods and safety of thousands of service members depend on it.”
The Center for Military Readiness, a conservative D.C.-based think tank that opposes any change to “Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell” issued a statement in advance of the Committee’s meeting:
Given the very public arm-twisting from President Barack Obama in his State of the Union Speech last week, we do not expect either witness to defend current law, Section 654, Title 10, which states that homosexuals are not eligible to serve in the military….
CMR trusts that senators on both sides of the dais will concentrate on the purpose of the current law: military effectiveness. The proposed new LGBT Law should not be imposed on our military men and women due to predictable negative effects on recruiting, retention, and readiness—the 3 Rs that are essential to maintain a strong All-Volunteer Force.
During the hearing, Udall was adamant that the Congress act swiftly: “Any steps we take should be designed to put Congress in a position to repeal this law. And I’m not confident that’s what is being proposed today.”
Colorado Springs Republican Congressman Doug Lamborn’s office said he wished to reserve comment on the topic until after the House hearings concluded.