Gay, straight Marines wouldn't share rooms with don't ask' repeal, general says

By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Marine Corps' top officer said he would not force straight Marines to share rooms with gay service members if Congress repeals the "don't ask, don't tell" law and allows gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the armed forces.

Gen. James T. Conway, the commandant of the Marine Corps, told the Web site in an interview published Friday that an "overwhelming" number of Marines would be opposed to bunking with someone of a different sexual orientation. As a result, he said, the Corps might have to ditch its double-bed rooms and offer single rooms to everyone.

"We want to continue [two-person rooms], but I would not ask our Marines to live with someone who is homosexual if we can possibly avoid it," Conway told the Web site. The Marine Corps is the only branch of the armed services that requires its unmarried members to share rooms, a policy meant to foster unit cohesion.

Conway has been an outspoken opponent of efforts to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" law, which Congress adopted in 1993. "I think the current policy works," he told the Senate Armed Services Committee last month. "My best military advice to this committee, to the secretary, to the president, would be to keep the law such as it is."

Conway's stance puts him at odds with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who have said they support President Obama's call to allow gays to serve openly.

On Thursday, Gates and Mullen announced that the Pentagon would immediately relax enforcement of "don't ask, don't tell" rules -- leading to fewer expulsions of gays from the military -- until Congress takes action.

Gates has directed subordinates to come up with a plan by Dec. 1 for integrating gays into the armed services. The issues they will have to sort out include same-sex marriage and barracks cohabitation.

Maj. David Nevers, a spokesman for Conway, said the Marine commandant supports that effort so that the military can better understand the potential ramifications of ending "don't ask, don't tell."

"To be sure, the commandant has concerns," Nevers said in an e-mail. "But he is not presupposing the outcome of the study."

Nathaniel Frank, a senior research fellow at the Palm Center at the University of California at Santa Barbara, said it was highly unlikely that Congress would permit separate rooms or other facilities based on sexual orientation if it votes to end the ban.

"If you have separate facilities, you end up breeding resentment," Frank said. "I think [Conway] knows that, and I think he was shooting something across the bow to test the limits of how much opponents can do on this."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company