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It's Not Too Late to Block the Repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

Here’s a quiz: What is the current state of the 1993 law that barred homosexuality in the Armed Forces (usually referred to as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”)?

If you said that the law has been repealed, and that open homosexuals are now welcome in the military, you would be wrong.

“But,” you might say, “I thought the lame duck Congress passed the bill to repeal it last year.” True, and President Obama signed it on December 22, 2010.

Yet odd as it may seem, the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010” did not actually repeal anything. Instead, it set in motion an unusual series of trigger mechanisms, which would not lead to repeal until sixty days after the last one of them is completed. Since this process has not yet been completed, the law barring homosexual conduct in the military is still in place—and there is still time to stop this ill-advised repeal.

The sixty-day countdown begins when the president, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify that implementation of the change “is consistent with the standards of military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention of the Armed Forces.”

Since all three of the incumbents in those posts—Barack Obama, Robert Gates, and Admiral Mike Mullen—have already declared their support for repeal, it may appear that the necessary certification is inevitable.

However, the new House of Representatives, under Republican control, has now had the opportunity, in two hearings, to ask some of the hard questions that were not asked in the rushed lame duck session—and shine light on the fact that repeal does not meet those standards.

Proof of this can be found in the Pentagon’s own study and survey findings. For example, the most-repeated finding from the survey was, “70 percent of Service members predicted it [repeal] would have a positive, mixed, or no effect.” Yet the “mixed” result—belief that a gay or lesbian Service member would affect a unit’s task cohesion “equally positively and negatively”—should hardly be counted as supporting repeal. One could just as accurately have reported that “62 percent of Service members predicted at least some negative effects from repeal, while only 38 percent predicted only positive or no effects.”

Furthermore, even the belief that repeal would have “no effects” should not be taken as supporting such a radical change. It can only be justified if it will have a positive effect on the military, and on this score, the survey was clear—those who foresee a negative consequence from repeal outnumbered those who foresee a positive consequence on virtually every question. For example, what would be the impact of repeal on “recruiting and retention?” Repeal was over four times more likely to have a negative than a positive impact on military members’ willingness to recommend their family and friends join the military and over six times more likely to have a negative than a positive impact on military members’ plans to remain in the military.

Advocates of repeal note that respondents who knew they had already served with a homosexual colleague were more positive in their responses—yet even among this group, negative answers outnumbered positive ones on every question.
What about “unit cohesion?” Those who had served with a homosexual said repeal was over two-and-a-half times more likely to have a negative impact on the ability of their unit to train well together. “Military effectiveness?” Those who had served with a homosexual said repeal was nearly two-and-a-half times more likely to negatively than positively impact their unit’s effectiveness at completing its mission.

And what about “military readiness”—readiness, that is, to actually fight and win wars, which is the purpose of our military? Those on the front lines, in combat arms units, have the most negative responses to repeal, with an outright majority (57.5 percent) of those in Marine combat arms foreseeing only “negative” or “very negative” consequences.

The Pentagon has prepared detailed training about repeal of the current law, which is already underway. But on April 7, the House Armed Services Committee questioned the four service chiefs (all of whom expressed significant reservations about repeal last year). None of the chiefs was prepared to declare that such a change would improve the military, and Army Gen. George Casey stated in written remarks that it posed a “moderate risk” to the force—in contrast to last year’s Pentagon study, which declared the risk to be “low.”

President Obama has seen the light on other national security issues, such as abandoning plans to close Guantanamo and try terrorists in civilian courts. Let’s hope that Congress can likewise persuade the president, Secretary Gates, and Adm. Mullen that they cannot, in honesty, “certify” that this change will be harmless to our Armed Forces.

Tony Perkins is president of the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C.

Tony Perkins is president of the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C.