*Taken from the Columbus Dispatch.
WASHINGTON – Allowing gay soldiers to be open about their sexual orientation might cause temporary problems but would do little long-term harm to the U.S. military, a long-awaited Pentagon report released yesterday concludes.
But while Ohio Democratic members of Congress lauded the study as a validation of the push to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law, Ohio GOP lawmakers are taking a wait-and-see attitude about lifting the 17-year-old ban.
A Pentagon survey found that a majority of troops aren’t opposed to serving with openly gay service members, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates said concerns can be overcome through training and education.
Gates noted, however, that there are more reservations among combat troops.
“In my view, the concerns of combat troops as expressed in the survey do not present an insurmountable barrier to a successful repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’” Gates said.
“This can be done, and it should be done, without posing a serious risk to military readiness. However, these findings do lead me to conclude that an abundance of care and preparation is required if we are to avoid a disruptive – and potentially dangerous – impact on the performance of those serving at the tip of the spear in America’s wars.”
Both Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said it is important for Congress to agree on legislation lifting the ban rather than have it removed through litigation, alluding to a recent ruling by a federal judge that would overturn the law.
Gates urged the Senate to pass the repeal and send it to President Barack Obama for his signature before the end of the year. He said a repeal by “judicial fiat” would be “by far the most disruptive and damaging scenario I can imagine and the one most hazardous to military morale, readiness and battlefield performance.”
Outgoing Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy, a Columbus Democrat defeated last month by Republican Steve Stivers, voted for a bill repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” that passed in the House earlier this year.
“At this point, I don’t think we need one more shred of evidence that this is the right thing to do,” Kilroy said.
But Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Genoa Township, said he has questions about the report and how the survey of troops was conducted. Tiberi indicated through a spokesman that he would like to see more hearings in the House next year and that he hopes the Senate doesn’t approve the repeal during the lame-duck session.
Stivers spokesman Adam Kuhn said that the congressman-elect is “currently reviewing the Pentagon report and intends to learn more about the findings of the report in the coming days.”
There will be Senate hearings on the issue this week.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has vowed to hold a vote on the repeal, which will be included in a broader defense bill, before the end of the lame-duck session.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said repealing the law would prevent the armed forces from losing valuable soldiers and ultimately would lead to a stronger military.
“Repealing the policy is about improving our national security and promoting equality,” Brown said.
But Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and some other GOP senators don’t appear likely to change their opposition based on the report’s findings.
Sixty votes are needed to override a filibuster, with Senate Democrats controlling 58 votes until the end of the year and 53 next year. Several Senate Republicans, including Sens. Richard Lugar of Indiana and Susan Collins of Maine, have indicated support for the repeal.
Retiring Sen. George V. Voinovich, R-Ohio, has been among those saying he wanted to see what military leaders concluded before deciding how to vote. Voinovich spokeswoman Garrette Silverman said that while he is studying the report, “it is unclear whether there is sufficient time this year for the Senate to consider ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’”
If it gets kicked into 2011, Sen.-elect Rob Portman would vote on the matter, but yesterday’s report alone wasn’t enough to make up his mind.
“We look forward to hearing from the leadership of America’s armed forces on the implications of the Department of Defense Working Group’s report, and how any policy change may affect the effectiveness of our military,” said Portman spokesman Jeff Sadosky.
As part of the report, the Pentagon commissioned a survey of soldiers and military spouses. Seventy percent said the repeal would have either positive, mixed or no effect – but 30 percent feared negative effects, and that figure rose to 40percent among all combat troops and 58percent among combat Marines.
But the report also noted that 69percent of soldiers thought they had served with a gay service member, and 92 percent of those soldiers said that didn’t cause problems in their units.
A Pew Research Center poll released this week found that 58 percent of Americans are in favor of lifting the ban on openly gay members in the military, with 27 percent opposed.
But a Marist Poll released yesterday found a more-divided public, with 48percent saying that the outgoing, Democratic-led Congress should not repeal the ban this year and 47percent favoring repeal now.