WASHINGTON (Nov. 30) -- The results are in. The Pentagon says repealing the military's ban on openly gay troops will be no big deal to implement. Now to the details.
The Pentagon report includes 21 pages of recommendations on everything from bathing and sleeping arrangements to who is entitled to be notified as next of kin.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates urged the Senate to repeal the law this year so that the Pentagon can get started. He said President Barack Obama "will be watching very closely that we don't dawdle or try to slow-roll this."
Speaking 17 years to the day after President Bill Clinton signed the policy into law, Gates refused to say how long the changes would take. Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson, who co-chaired the study, said it would be "not fast but not drawn out or protracted either."
The report's tone thrilled gay rights advocates. It ascribed objections to open homosexuality to moral and religious beliefs, not concerns about military readiness. It rejected suggestions that gays be given their own bathrooms and barracks. And it compared current naysayers to those who opposed the integration of blacks and women into the ranks.
The word "stereotype" was used 11 times.
Noting that opposition to racial integration was as high as 90 percent -- far more than current sentiment against gays -- the report said history shows that "in matters of personnel change within the military, predictions and surveys tend to overestimate negative consequences, and underestimate the U.S. military's ability to adapt and incorporate within its ranks the diversity that is reflective of American society at large."
The survey found "some of the most intense" opposition came from chaplains who believe homosexuality is "a sin and an abomination." But the report's authors said that in today's military, "people of sharply different moral values and religious convictions -- including those who believe that abortion is murder and those who do not, and those who believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God and those who do not -- and those who have no religious convictions at all, already co-exist, work, live, and fight together on a daily basis."
"This exhaustive report is overwhelmingly positive and constructive," said Aubrey Sarvis, an Army veteran and executive director for the gay advocacy group Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. "The Pentagon validated what repeal advocates and social scientists have been saying about open service for over a decade."
Caveats and Limits
The report notes legal limits in how far the Pentagon can go. Current federal law prohibits recognition of same-sex marriage in the five states and the District of Columbia where it is legal, so benefits given to married troops cannot be extended to same-sex couples. It also advises against changing regulations to add "same-sex committed relationships" to the definition of "dependent" or "family members" for the purpose of extending benefit eligibility.
And in a caveat conservative lawmakers will certainly use as the nonpartisan federal debt commission releases its findings Wednesday, the Pentagon says other benefits should be extended "where justified by policy, fiscal, and feasibility considerations."
The working group estimated the annual cost of repeal at $30 million to $40 million. While the Pentagon would spend between $40 million and $50 million a year for new benefits, that would be offset by about $20 million in cost savings by doing away with the need to recruit and train new troops to replace those discharged under "don't ask, don't tell." Personnel costs would rise if all benefits given to straight troops were extended to those with same-sex partners.
Here is what the Pentagon recommends doing if and when the order for repeal comes down from Congress:
No segregated housing or bathroom facilities. Calling the idea of separate bathroom and living quarters for straight and gay troops reminiscent of the "separate but equal" facilities for blacks before the 1960s, the report said they "would do more harm than good for unit cohesion, create a climate of stigmatization and isolation" and prove an expensive "logistical nightmare."
While "concerns about showers and bathrooms are based on stereotype -- that gay men and lesbians will behave in an inappropriate or predatory manner in these situations," the report acknowledged reality. When disputes arise, the report said commanders should "have the flexibility, on a case-by-case basis" to address concerns and change living quarters "in the interests of maintaining morale, good order, and discipline."
Benefits. Although the federal government has extended benefits to same-sex partners of civilian employees, the report advised "for the time being" against doing the same for military personnel and said the issue should be revisited as the legal landscape on same-sex marriage and partner benefits evolves.
The Pentagon document noted that benefits play a much larger role in day-to-day military life than in civilian agencies, encompassing housing, family-support programs, commissary shopping privileges, space-available travel and relocation assistance. Because "resentment at perceived inequities runs deep in military families," the report said it would hurt the acceptance of gay and lesbian service members if such benefits were extended to same-sex partners but not to unmarried, committed opposite-sex couples.
Gay partners would be barred from receiving higher housing allowances or military health care under the recommendations. Military family housing would be "problematic" because of a limited supply that could "create occasions for abuse and unfairness" in naming dependents eligible to live there. Joint spouse assignments for dual military married couples would not apply to same-sex partners who want to serve in the same geographic area.
Changes could be made for "member-designated" benefits that allow anyone to be named a beneficiary. These include eligibility for group life insurance, missing member notification and hospital visitation rights. Gay partners also would be eligible to take advantage of deployment, relocation and crisis counseling assistance.
Military law.The Pentagon recommended repealing Article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which prohibits sodomy, and removing private consensual relations between adults as a criminal offense. It also advised a review of other UCMJ offenses "to ensure sexual orientation-neutral application" of such offenses as adultery.
Re-enlistment and redress. More than 14,000 service members have been discharged since 1994. The Pentagon says they should be allowed to apply for re-entry, provided they otherwise qualify for service. The report recommended that no compensation be paid for those forced out under "don't ask, don't tell," although individuals may petition for redress through regular channels.
No easy out for straights. Some service members told the working group they wanted to leave the military if gays are allowed to serve openly. The report said they should not be allowed to cut short their service commitment, saying, "It would be inappropriate, unworkable, and unfair to others to adopt a policy that permits release based on an assertion of incompatibility with or intolerance for gay men and lesbians."