Pentagon: Low Risk to Repeal of Ban on Gays

Robert Gates
CBS
Updated at 2:36 p.m. ET

Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Pentagon reporters on Tuesday that existing policies such as housing and spousal benefits for military service members "can and should be applied equally to homosexuals as well as heterosexuals."

Gates says he does not expect the Pentagon would have to rethink those policies to accommodate gays if they are allowed to serve openly in the military.

He said a majority of concerns associated with repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" provision against gays serving openly could be addressed through increased training and education.

A Pentagon study has determined that overturning the law known might cause some disruption at first but would not create any widespread or long-lasting problems.

The study was expected to provide some much-needed ammunition to congressional Democrats struggling to overturn the law. But despite supporters' hopes to force a vote during the lame-duck legislative session, it remains unclear whether the findings would be enough to sway skeptical Republicans, led by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen discussed the report Tuesday, with the study's co-chairs, Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson and Army Gen. Carter Ham.

The findings were confirmed by several people familiar with the study who spoke on condition of anonymity because the results hadn't been publicly released.

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The study found that 70 percent of troops surveyed believed that repealing the law would have mixed, positive or no effect, while 30 percent predicted negative consequences. Opposition was strongest among combat troops, with at least 40 percent saying it was a bad idea. That number climbs to 46 percent among Marines.

The study also draws a strong correlation between troops who have worked with a gay service member and those who support repeal. According to the assessment, 92 percent of troops who have served with someone they believed to be gay thought that their unit's ability to work together was either very good, good, or neither good nor poor.

One person familiar with the report said it will show that military commanders believe gay and lesbian troops have a strong desire to fit in and feel accepted by their units. The report will also show that gay service members currently serving in the military have expressed a patriotic desire to serve, and want to be subject to the same rules as other service members.

The survey is based on responses by some 115,000 troops and 44,200 military spouses to more than a half million questionnaires distributed last summer by an independent polling firm.

The House has already voted to overturn the law as part of a broader defense policy bill. But Senate Republicans have blocked the measure because they say not enough time has been allowed for debate on unrelated provisions in the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has promised a vote on the matter by the end of the year, after hearings can be held this week on the Pentagon study. Still, some gay rights groups have complained that Democratic leadership has done little to push for repeal before the new Congress takes over in January.

Reid spokesman Jim Manley said the majority leader is "very much committed to doing away with the ban this year" but that it was the GOP's fault for blocking the bill.

Republicans have mostly opposed repealing the law because they say efforts to do so are politically driven and dangerous at a time of two wars.

"This was a political promise made by an inexperienced president or candidate for presidency of the United States," McCain told CNN's "State of the Union" last weekend.

"The military is at its highest point in recruitment and retention and professionalism and capability, so to somehow allege that this policy has been damaging the military is simply false," McCain said.

Democrats and gay rights groups counter that the study finally proves what they've known anecdotally for years: Most troops would accept an openly gay person in their units.

"It's what we expected. The atmosphere in the active-duty has changed," said a gay Air Force officer and co-founder of the advocacy group OutServe. The officer uses the pseudonym "JD Smith" to protect his identity.