In the past, Conway has been outspoken in expressing his belief that the "don't ask, don't tell" law that bans gays from serving openly in the military should remain in place. Scheduled to retire next month, Conway told reporters at his final Pentagon briefing that if the law is repealed, "we will obey the law. "
Conway's opposition to repeal has put him at odds with President Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen.
Today Conway cautioned Marines and Marine leaders that "if the law changes, we pride our Corps in leading the services in many, many things, and we're going to have to lead in this too." He said the difficulty will be in dealing with the "100 issues" raised by repealing the law "in terms of how we do business, and we cannot be seen as dragging our feet or in some way delaying implementation. We've got a war to fight, and we need to, if the law changes, implement and get on with it."
Asked how the Marines' stance on "don't ask, don't tell" differs from the other military services, he noted that when it comes to recruitment among the military services, the people who join the Marines are "a pretty macho guy or gal, that is willing to go fight and perhaps die for their country."
When it comes to looking at tight housing arrangements on ships or in the field for extended deployments Conway says his unofficial surveys lead him to believe that regardless of age, origin or rank, it is his sense that the average Marine has "pretty uniformly not endorsed (repeal of the ban) as the ideal way ahead."
"I just think all those things have impact on the Marines," he said. "And we'd just as soon not see it change. But again, we will follow the law, whatever the law prescribes."
A key issue for Conway in the past is his reservation about the difficulties in Marine housing arrangements that might arise from the law's repeal. He has said he would not force a Marine to share living quarters with an openly gay Marine if he or she did not wish to do so.
The general noted that unlike the other services, the Marines have for decades focused on housing designed for two Marines. "If the law changes, we start out with a problem in terms of how to address that. And I've spoken publicly some about that in the past."
He doesn't believe there is enough money for the construction of additional living quarters for single Marines. " I do not believe there's money out there to build another requirement for BEQ's (bachelor enlisted quarters) to allow every Marine to have a room by his or herself."
He says that in the past Marines have been asked about their preference for housing and "I can tell you that an overwhelming majority would like not to be roomed with a person who is openly homosexual. Some do not object." He suggested maybe starting off with a voluntary system as "the best way to start without violating anybody's sense of moral concern or a perception on the part of their mates." But he added, "I don't know. We're not there yet. And it's one of those hypotheticals, at this point, that we have to consider, but we won't have to deal with until the law changes."
Conway thinks some of the reservations from some Marines about housing arrangements comes from those who are very religious and "say that homosexuality is wrong, and they simply do not want to room with a person of that persuasion because it would go against their religious beliefs."
What other arrangements might be needed?
" Well, I think, as a commander, you try to satisfy the requirements of all your Marines. And if the law changes and we have homosexual Marines, we'll be as concerned about their rights, their privileges, their morale, as we will Marines who feel differently about that whole paradigm." He added that local commanders will be required "to assist us in making sure that every Marine is provided for and is focused on the fight at hand."
The Defense Department is in the midst of carrying out a department-wide survey of members of the services and their families about how implantation would occur. An initial survey sent to 400,000 servicemembers last month resulted in a 28 percent response rate. An additional survey was sent out to 150,000 military family members last week.
Both Houses of Congress have worked on legislation to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" law. The House of Representatives has passed the full Defense Authorization Bill that included an amendment to repeal the ban. The full Senate has yet to vote to include a similar amendment in its version of the bill. A compromise reached in May would delay implementation of a repeal until after the Defense Department concludes its surveys and the White House certifies an implementation plan.