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Pentagon surveys military spouses on 'don't ask, don't tell'

By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 24, 2010; B03

A new survey sent to about 150,000 military spouses asks whether they would encourage their husband or wife to leave the military if it repeals the "don't ask, don't tell" policy banning gays and lesbians from openly serving in uniform.

The 44-question survey, distributed Friday, also asks how spouses might behave at social functions on a military base if an openly gay couple attends.

"Your voice is important and we need you to participate," Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said in a letter accompanying the survey. "The survey is confidential and will enable you to be straightforward and candid in your responses." Spouses have until Sept. 27 to complete the survey, says the Pentagon.

"This survey will help the military leadership assess the impacts, if any, a change in the law commonly known as 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' might have on family readiness and military community life," Defense Department spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said in an e-mail.

The survey asks spouses whether they think their husband or wife has ever worked with a service member they think to be gay and how well they knew the individual. It also asks whether they would want the military to provide them with information if the law is repealed by Congress this year. Options include receiving information about the repeal on military Web sites, through online chats, in-person informational sessions, from military chaplains or counselors or not at all.

Among other questions on the survey:

-- "How important a factor would a repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell be to you in making decisions about your spouse's future in the military?"

-- "Would a repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell affect your willingness to recommend military service to a family member or close friend?"

-- "Assume Don't Ask, Don't Tell is repealed and you live in on-base housing. If a gay or lesbian Service member lived in your neighborhood with their partner, would you stay on-base or would you try to move out?"

-- "Would the attendance of a gay or lesbian Service member with his or her partner affect how often you attend these types of military social events?"

The military distributed a similar survey to about 400,000 troops this summer; about 108,000 of them responded, Smith said.

A copy of the spouses' survey was provided to The Washington Post by OutServe, a group of more than 500 active duty gay and lesbian troops. The Defense Department verified the copy's authenticity.

"We overwhelmingly believe that spouses are on our side for the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' " OutServe co-director Ty Walrod said in an e-mail. "We saw in the previous survey the low participation rate, because military members simply are ready for the repeal of the policy. A new generation of members are leading the U.S. military forces and that generation understands that gay and lesbian military members are no different."

The surveys will be incorporated into the final recommendations of a Pentagon working group studying the potential impact of repealing the policy. The group's report is due to President Obama by Dec. 1. The results of the surveys are expected to remain confidential, making it difficult for outsiders to determine how military families feel about a potential repeal. Nationally, three-quarters of Americans said they support openly gay people serving in the military, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted in February.

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