Pentagon Study Finds Minimal Risk in Ending 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

Greatest opposition to lifting gay ban from Marines, sources say.

ByABC News
November 11, 2010, 2:37 PM

WASHINGTON, Nov. 11, 2010— -- A forthcoming Pentagon study on the impact of repealing "don't ask, don't tell" will reportedly show that most service members wouldn't care if they had to live and work alongside openly gay and lesbian peers.

Seventy-percent of respondents to a confidential military survey said they expected positive, mixed or non-existent effects from lifting the ban, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.

Two sources familiar with the closely-held draft report told the Post there's little evidence that changing the law would significantly hurt unit cohesion or combat readiness.

But 40 percent of Marines expressed concern over repeal, according to the sources, a finding that is likely to embolden political opponents of changing the law.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos has been a fervent supporter of "don't ask don't tell," telling a Senate panel at his confirmation hearing in September that repeal could create "disruption to cohesion" and pose a "distraction" to Marines engaged in combat operations.

Amos was chastised by his boss, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen just last week, for making public statements on the policy after being instructed to make recommendations privately to the chain of command.

But Amos has said he feels strongly that ending the policy would uniquely impact the Corps -- the military service branch that most commonly bunks troops together instead of in private quarters.

"Unlike the other services, we have consciously, for decades now, billeted by twos," said Amos' predecessor, former Marine Corps commandant Gen. James Conway, who also opposes repeal. "So if the law changes, we start out with a problem in terms of how to address that."

Republicans, including Sen. John McCain, have been keenly sensitive to concerns raised by Conway, Amos and other service chiefs, vehemently opposing a legislative change to the ban on gay troops during a time of war, or at least prior to completion of the survey to allow troops to share their views.

But with the eagerly-anticipated study now nearing release and its findings shared with members of Congress, advocates for repeal hope the political dynamic will change.

The House passed a Defense Authorization bill in September that includes a repeal of "don't ask don't tell," but a similar measure failed in the Senate, where Republicans threatened a filibuster.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has promised another vote during the lame duck session which begins next week.

"It's clear a majority of Americans in both the military and civilian spheres agree that 'don't ask, don't tell' is outdated and should go," said Aubrey Sarvis, an Army veteran and executive director of the Service Members Legal Defense Network. "Congress needs to catch up and the Senate should immediately act on repeal when it returns to Washington next week."

"No one should be surprised if a vocal minority, for a short window, might object, as a minority did when segregation in the ranks ended and women were admitted to the service academies," she said. "In the military you get over your objections or you get out."