Pentagon: Gays in army pose no harm
Washington - The Pentagon study that argues that gay troops could serve openly without hurting the military's ability to fight is expected to reignite debate this month in Congress over repealing the 17-year-old "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
Officials familiar with the 10-month study's results have said a clear majority of respondents don't care if gays serve openly, with 70% predicting that lifting the ban would have positive, mixed or no results. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the findings hadn't been released.
Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Chairperson of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, who have both said they support repealing the law, were scheduled to discuss the findings with Congress on Tuesday morning and with reporters on Tuesday afternoon.
Republicans, led by Senator John McCain of Arizona, have mostly opposed repealing the law because they say efforts to do so are politically driven and dangerous at a time of two wars.
"This was a political promise made by an inexperienced president or candidate for presidency of the United States," McCain told CNN's State of the Union this weekend.
"The military is at its highest point in recruitment and retention and professionalism and capability, so to somehow allege that this policy has been damaging the military is simply false," McCain said.
Democrats and gay rights groups counter that the study finally proves what they've known anecdotally for years: Most troops would accept an openly gay person in their units.
Republicans blocking bill
"It's what we expected. The atmosphere in the active-duty has changed," said a gay Air Force officer and co-founder of the advocacy group OutServe. The officer uses the pseudonym "JD Smith" to protect his identity.
The survey is based on responses by some 115 000 troops and 44 200 military spouses to more than a half million questionnaires distributed last summer. The study group, led by Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson and Army General Carter Ham, also visited various military bases and held town hall-style meetings with service members.
The findings of troop opinions would reflect the view of the broader population. According to a November survey by the Pew Research Centre, 58% of Americans say they favour allowing gays to serve openly in the armed forces while 27% oppose.
The House has already voted to overturn the law as part of a broader defence policy bill. But Senate Republicans have blocked the measure because they say not enough time has been allowed for debate on unrelated provisions in the bill.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has promised a vote on the matter by the end of the year, after hearings can be held this week on the Pentagon study. Still, some gay rights groups have complained that the Democratic leadership has done little to push for repeal before the new more Republican Congress takes over in January.
Reid spokesperson Jim Manley said the majority leader is "very much committed to doing away with the ban this year" but that it was the Republicans' fault for blocking the bill.
Under the policy, the military can't ask recruits their sexual orientation. In turn, service members can't say they are gay or bisexual, engage in homosexual activity or marry a member of the same sex.