WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary Robert Gates released Tuesday guidelines for a 10-month review of the military's policy prohibiting homosexuals from serving openly -- a policy that he opposes but one that apparently has the support of some if not most of the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Gates released the guidelines exactly one month after appearing before a Senate committee and saying he backs President Obama's goal of overturning the so-called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at the same hearing that he, too, personally would like to see the policy reversed, something only Congress can do.
But none of the representatives of the four Armed Forces branches who serve on the Joint Chiefs of Staff sided with Gates or Mullen during testimony before House and Senate committees Feb. 23-25. In fact, three of them -- representatives of the Army, Air Force and Marines -- expressed reservations about overturning current policy.
Gates said in his March 2 memo that the review from the working group would be due Dec. 1. It began in February.
"To be successful," Gates wrote, "we must understand all issues and potential impacts associated with repeal of the law and how to manage implementation in a way that minimizes disruption to a force engaged in combat operations and other demanding military activities around the globe.
"Should Congress take this action, strong, engaged and informed leadership will be required at every level to properly and effectively implement a legislative change."
The study, Gates said, will involve troops and their families, and will "consider the impacts, if any, a change in the law would have on military readiness, military effectiveness and unit cohesion."
Army General Carter F. Ham, commander of U.S. Army Europe, and Jeh Johnson, the Pentagon’s top lawyer, are leading the study.
Congress passed a law in 1993 prohibiting homosexuals from serving openly. The law said "there is no constitutional right to serve in the armed forces" and that the policy is necessary because "living conditions and working conditions" in the military -- particularly in combat -- "are often spartan, primitive, and characterized by forced intimacy with little or no privacy." It further said, "The prohibition against homosexual conduct is a longstanding element of military law that continues to be necessary in the unique circumstances of military service."
General James T. Conway, Marine Corps Commandant and Joint Chiefs member, told a Senate committee he supports current policy, although he did say he backs Gates' effort to get troops' opinions on the issue.
"My personal opinion is that unless we can strip away the emotion, the agendas and the politics and ask, 'Do we somehow enhance the war-fighting capabilities of the United States Marine Corps by allowing homosexuals to openly serve?,' then we haven't addressed it from the correct perspective," Conway told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "At this point, I think that the current policy works -- notwithstanding the results that the study will bring forward. My best military advice to this committee, to the secretary and to the president would be to keep the law such as it is."
Conway said he's concerned that the "readiness of the Armed Forces" to fight the nation's wars will become secondary in the discussion.
General George W. Casey Jr., the Army's representative on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he, too, has concerns.
"I've got serious concerns about the impact of the repeal of the law on a force that's fully involved in two wars and has been at war for eight and a half years," he told the House Armed Services Committee. " ... I don't know what the impacts on readiness and military effectiveness will be, but I am concerned. I would say right now, I don't believe that it would increase readiness."
Air Force General Norton A. Schwartz, a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called the Gates' study "essential" to understanding "potential implications, the potential complications."
"I have two strong convictions on this," Schwartz told the House committee. "One is that this is not the time to perturb the force that is at the moment stretched by demands in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere without careful deliberation. Two, should the law change, our standards of conduct will continue to apply to all airmen."
Admiral Gary Roughead, the Navy's representative on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said his personal view of the policy "is what is in the best interest of the United States Navy." He, like the other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, supports the Gates review.
"There are a lot of bits of information and surveys that have taken place, but there has never really been an assessment of the force that serves," Roughead told the House committee. "Equally important ... is the opinions of the families who support that force. That needs to be done, because only with that information can we talk about the force that we have -- not someone else's, not another country's."
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council and a Marine veteran, previously told Baptist Press the current policy makes practical sense.
"Most members of Congress have not served in the military and most of the public has not either. They have a hard time understanding the environment. When I was in the Marine Corps there were 60 of us in a squad bay. You shower together. That's a problematic environment" if the policy is changed to allow homosexuals to serve openly, he said.