By Phil Stewart and Sue Pleming
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, August 26, 2010; B03
The overwhelming majority of Marines oppose sharing sleeping quarters with openly serving gays and lesbians, an obstacle if Congress lifts the ban on gays in the military, the top Marine said Tuesday.
Gen. James Conway, the Marine Corps commandant and a vocal opponent of ending the military's 17-year-old ban on openly serving gays, said of the standing policy: "We'd just as soon not see it change.
"But again, we will follow the law, whatever the law prescribes," Conway said.
The Clinton-era policy allows gays and lesbians to serve in the military if they keep quiet about their sexual orientation but expels them if it becomes known.
The repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" is championed by President Obama and gay rights advocates, who see it as a milestone in a campaign for equal rights in the United States. Critics say it will add strain to a force stretched by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Although the Marines have criticized ending the ban, many within the military favor allowing gays to serve openly, including Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"We sometimes ask Marines what is their preference, and I can tell you that an overwhelming majority would like not to be roomed with a person that is openly homosexual," Conway, who is retiring in the fall, told Pentagon reporters.
He said there was not enough funding to create single rooms for all Marines but suggested that one possibility would be to recruit volunteers to share sleeping quarters with gays.
"Perhaps, you know, a voluntary basis would be the best place to start, without violating anybody's sense of moral concern," he said.
The Pentagon has surveyed troops and is polling spouses for a Defense Department study due by December preparing for a potential repeal of the ban.
"My own surveys indicate that it's not age-dependent. It's not rank dependent. It's not where you're from," he said.
That said, Conway was explicit that the Marines would lead the way in repeal if it were enacted.
"We're going to have to lead in this, too. There will be 100 issues out there that we have to solve if the law changes in terms of how we do business," he said. "We cannot be seen as dragging our feet or some way delaying implementation."