Will It Be the Senate Or the Courts? DADT Report Throws Down the Gauntlet
November 30th, 2010
The Defense Department’s comprehensive review on implementing an end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was released today, and its hard to imagine a more ringing endorsement for the policy’s demise. Timothy has already reviewed the report’s recommendations. Clearly the Defense of Marriage Act with its impact on important domestic arrangements remains the greatest single obstacle to achieving full equality for LGBT service members, as it is for the rest of society. But as for the repeal of DADT itself, here is the money quote you’ve all been waiting for (PDF: 8,847KB/267 pages):
Based on all we saw and heard, our assessment is that, when coupled with the prompt implementation of the recommendations we offer below, the risk of repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell to overall military effectiveness is low. We conclude that, while a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will likely, in the short term, bring about some limited and isolated disruption to unit cohesion and retention, we do not believe this disruption will be widespread or long-lasting, and can be adequately addressed by the recommendations we offer below. Longer term, with a continued and sustained commitment to core values of leadership, professionalism, and respect for all, we are convinced that the U.S. military can adjust and accommodate this change, just as it has others in history.
But if anyone decides to forget to read the report (I’m looking at you, Sen. McCain), Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates backed up the report with a statement urging the Senate to repeal DADT this year. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called the report’s findings and recommendations “solid, defensible conclusions.”
More significantly, I think, is this warning that Mullins directed toward the holdouts in the Senate:
Mullen added that the implementation of a repeal of the law would not be without its challenges, and that he supports the process taking place through the Congress instead of the court system. “We can best address those challenges by having it within our power and our prerogative to manage the implementation process ourselves,” he said.
This would suggest that the Pentagon sees DADT as indefensible in the courts, which presents a serious challenge to the Republican opposition in the Senate: Do you want to do this the easy way or the hard way?
Some of the report’s key findings include:
- 70% believe that having a gay service member in their unit will have a positive, mixed, or no effect on the unit’s ability to “work together to get the job done.”
- 69% reported that they had worked with a service member who they believed to be gay. On that point, the report conceded that “The reality is that there are gay men and lesbians already serving in today’s U.S. military, and most Service members recognize this.”
- Of them, 92% stated that the unit’s “ability to work together” was either “very good,” “Good,” or “neither good nor poor.” On that point, the report concluded that “Both the survey results and our own engagement of the force convinced us that when Service members had the actual experience of serving with someone they believe to be gay, in general unit performance was not affected negatively by this added dimension.
- Of service members spouses, 74% said repeal would have no effect, while only 12% said “I would want my spouse to leave earlier.”
The report also found that when units in war zones were questioned about whether they thought lifting DADT would hurt unit cohesion, a higher percentage thought that it would, relative to units that were not in war zones. But the report made a key distinction between those predictions and the perceptions of those serving in war zones who had actually had the experience of serving known or suspected LGBT service members:
However, while a higher percentage of Service members in warfighting units predict negative effects of repeal, the percentage distinctions between warfighting units and the entire military are almost non-existent when asked about the actual experience of serving in a unit with someone believed to be gay. For example, when those in the overall military were asked about the experience of working with someone they believed to be gay or lesbian, 92% stated that their unit’s “ability to work together,” was “very good, “good” or “neither good nor poor.” Meanwhile, in response to the same question, the percentage is 89% for those in Army combat arms units and 84% for those in Marine combat arms units—all very high percentages.19 Anecdotally, we heard much the same. As one special operations force warfighter told us, “We have a gay guy [in the unit]. He’s big, he’s mean, and he kills lots of bad guys. No one cared that he was gay.”
The report also contains a key history lesson, noting that the challenges in eliminating racial segregation in the armed forces in the midst of the cold war and rising tensions in the Korean peninsula were much, much greater.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, our military took on the racial integration of its ranks, before the country at large had done so. Our military then was many times larger than it is today, had just returned from World War II, and was in the midst of Cold War tensions and the Korean War. By our assessment, the resistance to change at that time was far more intense: surveys of the military revealed opposition to racial integration of the Services at levels as high as 80–90%. Some of our best-known and most-revered military leaders from the World War II-era voiced opposition to the integration of blacks into the military, making strikingly similar predictions of the negative impact on unit cohesion. But by 1953, 95% of all African-American soldiers were serving in racially integrated units, while public buses in Montgomery, Alabama and other cities were still racially segregated.
The report noted that the survey’s questionnaire was not intended to answer the question of whether “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” should be repealed, but how. The report said that asking whether the policy should be repealed “would, in effect, have been a referendum, and it is not the Department of Defense’s practice to make military policy decisions by a referendum of Service members.”
As I said, it’s hard to imaging a more compelling case for DADT’s repeal if it had been written by Servicemembers United themselves. The Senate now has a stark choice: Either allow DADT to die an orderly death according to the Pentagon’s implementation plan, or risk throwing it open to the chaos of an immediate injunction from the courts. If they really were interested in combat readiness and unit cohesion, the answer should be obvious.