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Report: Little risk to lifting gay ban

By Ed O'Keefe and Greg Jaffe
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, November 11, 2010; A01

A Pentagon study group has concluded that the military can lift the ban on gays serving openly in uniform with only minimal and isolated incidents of risk to the current war efforts, according to two people familiar with a draft of the report, which is due to President Obama on Dec. 1.

More than 70 percent of respondents to a survey sent to active-duty and reserve troops over the summer said the effect of repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy would be positive, mixed or nonexistent, said two sources familiar with the document. The survey results led the report's authors to conclude that objections to openly gay colleagues would drop once troops were able to live and serve alongside them.

One source, who has read the report in full, summarized its findings in a series of conversations this week. The source declined to state his position on whether to lift the ban, insisting it did not matter. He said he felt compelled to share the information out of concern that groups opposed to ending the ban would mischaracterize the findings. The long, detailed and nuanced report will almost certainly be used by opponents and supporters of repeal legislation to bolster their positions in what is likely to be a heated and partisan congressional debate.

President Obama has vowed to end the ban. Senior Pentagon officials requested the survey to address areas in which a repeal might cause conflicts that could hinder the military's ability to fight.

"There are challenges here, and we want the time so we can make the process of implementation as smooth as possible," said a second person who was briefed on the report but had not read it.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen, and uniformed and civilian leaders of the four military branches received copies of the draft report late last week.

The document totals about 370 pages and is divided into two sections. The first section explores whether repealing "don't ask, don't tell" would harm unit readiness or morale. It cites the findings of a survey sent over the summer to 400,000 active-duty and reserve troops, a separate questionnaire sent to about 150,000 military spouses, the responses submitted to an anonymous online drop box seeking comments, and responses from focus-group participants.

The second part of the report presents a plan for ending enforcement of the ban. It is not meant to serve as the military's official instruction manual on the issue but could be used if military leaders agreed, one of the sources said.

Among other questions, the survey asked if having an openly gay person in a unit would have an effect in an intense combat situation. Although a majority of respondents signaled no strong objections, a significant minority is opposed to serving alongside openly gay troops. About 40 percent of the Marine Corps is concerned about lifting the ban, according to one of the people familiar with the report.

A Defense Department spokesman declined to comment for this article.

House and Senate versions of the annual defense authorization bill include language that would repeal the ban, but it is not clear whether lawmakers will proceed with the measure during the lame-duck session slated to begin next week. At least 10 senators of both parties have said they will not decide how to vote until they read the final report.

In addition to political jockeying by groups for and against the ban, a Republican gay rights group has challenged the constitutionality of the policy in court. Its legal push led a federal judge to briefly block the military from enforcing the ban. In court papers filed Wednesday, the Justice Department said the Supreme Court should allow the Pentagon to continue enforcing it.

Gen. James Amos, the Marine Corps commandant, said last weekend that ending the policy in the middle of two wars would be risky for Marines.

"There is nothing more intimate than young men and young women - and when you talk of infantry, we're talking about our young men - lying out, sleeping alongside of one another and sharing death, fear and loss of brothers," Amos told reporters. "I don't know what the effect of that will be on cohesion. I mean, that's what we're looking at. It's unit cohesion. It's combat effectiveness."

Mullen, traveling in Australia at the time, publicly rebuked Amos for expressing his concerns to news media before the report's release.

Adm. Gary Roughead, the chief of naval operations, said Tuesday that he had received a draft of the report, but he would not discuss its contents.

"I think it's important for me to look at all of the information, all of the attitudes that are in there, because my job is to make recommendations," he said during a meeting with reporters and editors at The Washington Post. "All of the views need to be used to inform the input that I make."

Despite the predictions or fears of groups for and against repealing the ban, the report does not anticipate a large "coming out" by gay men and lesbians serving in uniform, said the person who had read the full draft.

Among several recommendations, the report urges an end to the military ban on sodomy between consenting adults regardless of what Congress or the federal courts might do about "don't ask, don't tell," the source said.

The report also concludes that gay troops should not be put into a special class for equal-opportunity or discrimination purposes, the individual said. The recommendation is based on feedback the study group obtained from gay troops and same-sex partners who said they do not want a special classification, according to the source. Gay troops were encouraged to participate in the survey and to submit comments to the anonymous online drop box.

The report recommends few, if any, changes to policy covering military housing and benefits, because the military must abide by the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which does not recognize same-sex marriage. Objections by troops who do not want to room or shower with openly gay troops should be handled case-by-case by commanders and should be scrutinized, the source said.

If "don't ask, don't tell" is repealed, a review should occur one year after afterward, the report's authors recommend.

In February, Gates tapped Defense Department general counsel Jeh Johnson and Army Gen. Carter Ham to lead the study group. The team met privately in September with the same-sex partners of active-duty and reserve troops and is in regular contact with groups for and against lifting the ban, according to people familiar with the meetings.

Johnson and Carter wrote most of the report, which is undergoing final edits before it reaches the White House.

"I will look at it very carefully," Obama said last week.

ed.okeefe@washingtonpost.com jaffeg@washpost.com

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